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CEOs and decision makers are now thinking much longer term when planning for coronavirus. There are opportunities but some adjustments will be needed.

1. Market feedback

Intelligence about the impact of COVID-19 on specific financial services sectors, not published by media. 

A. 100 Days Dinners - the post-COVID-19 future

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been hosting virtual (and, later, face to face) drinks and dinners with CEOs and others in my close network. The purpose is to hear how you’re seeing the future. I won't replay most of those themes here because the conversations are both wide-ranging and confidential. But two recurring patterns are appropriate to share and might help you calibrate your own thinking. 

Without exception, CEOs are now thinking much longer term, and seeing a bleaker reality now that the "next normal" is upon us. Some are now also much clearer about the opportunities, the necessary adjustments and goals that won’t change.

B. Managing the return to the office

Some CEOs are bringing in experts in to get OH&S guidance and meet compliance requirements ahead of the return. Others of you:

  • Simply came back as the restrictions eased, usually with a staggered approach
  • Never left but kept that quite quiet
  • Are talking to your employees and planning the return they want.

Of course much is dictated in larger organisations by formal decisions about risk and OH&S while in smaller businesses it’s sometimes comes down to leader’s personal preference. Some people are craving the structure of the office, while others are comfortable with the increased flexibility.

C. Recruitment and onboarding

Aside from safety considerations, culture is one element of our workplaces that’s taking a beating thanks to the move to WFH.

More than one of you has pointed out that remote work arrangement is hampering new folk without an established network, informal information flows and thus the quality and quantity of relationships and decisions.

Recruiting and onboarding new team members has been identified as a challenge while we’re working remotely. Established teams have mostly managed some level of connection and camaraderie, but this is not so easy for new recruits trying to orient themselves in a new organisation. Many of us rely heavily on informal, often visual cues to understand the reactions, relationships and nuances of work. It’s harder to get a sense for how a firm, or human, works via Zoom.

D. Deeper level concern about the medium to long term

We’re thus hearing that the informal aspects of how CEOs and their teams lead are seriously affected by being in lockdown. While the CEO might now see this, her or his direct reports often do. Some of you are sharing that it’s harder to pick up what’s going on, to join dots and to offer feedback to senior management. You’re reporting that this will potentially cause the CEO to miss feedback they’d otherwise have, to see them be more reliant on their established network or their closest confidants – the “Kitchen Cabinet”.

If you’re the leader, and you’re doing this, the risk is that you surround yourself with people similar to you and don't hear diverse voices. Those might be newer, younger people and those least like you - and very possibly more likely to represent different thinking, stakeholders' views, dissenting voices and other crucial "brutal fact" type information. 

E. Long term geopolitical concerns 

Some of you are now flagging geopolitical issues. Specifically, unrest in the US,  US/China trade war concerns and what where Australia would find ourselves if China invades Taiwan. A week ago, it seemed near inconceivable we’d see US police action against unarmed civilians. Now you’re thinking about global themes, and their potential long-term consequences for us as a nation as well as the organisations you lead and those you serve.   

2. Management responses

This section outlines how CEOs and their leadership teams are responding.

A. Industry media & sponsorships

The response from our friends in the media has mirrored other businesses, as they pivot their offering to digital formats, namely:

  • Digital events – We’ve seen the industry media move to digital events in an agile and smart way. Anecdotally, participants have been open to the different value proposition of holding media (and other) events in the digital realm. When the value proposition is so different, the offer must also change. Our CEO attended a seven-hour B2B marketing forum held entirely on On24 last week, and said it worked well. We’re yet to see any solution to replicate the networking element of events online.
  • Podcasts – more and more publishers (and self-publishers) have moved to podcast, with many high-quality offerings available. There are more and more conversations about what makes a high-quality podcast. If you’re considering launching your own, we recommend you consider getting your message out via an established podcast and considering other channels.
  • Webinars – as the volume of webinars increases, quality matters more here too. Some media companies are using third parties, so the quality of webinars mirrors live TV.  
  • Viewership has increased – Publishers and journalists are working hard to increase audience engagement. Digital audiences for trade media have increased, but overall subscribers have declined. So, this suggests people aren’t paying for content.
  • Advertising has picked up again, but inventory remains cheap. 
B. Go-to market approach: where to save, where to invest?

Marketers are reconsidering their mix. For those who haven’t had budgets cut they’re thinking about doing things they haven’t tried before and cutting back on activities where they can’t see a direct link to leads.  We’re seeing a focus on:

  1. Direct response, funnel filling, measurable marketing activity;
  2. Trialling way-finding content and promoting it using paid and 
  3. Higher value content to take advantage of historic high engagement and  deliver additional value to current clients.
C. “Have you guys returned to the office yet?” Part 3

How CEOs are planning to return to the physical office is very different, and there is a correlation between company size and plans to go back.  Where clients have a clear plan, safety measures are in place, it make sense commercially AND your people want to return you’re planning to head back, or starting to.

Others are already back with some or all of these measures in place:

  1. Rotating teams
  2. Desk spacing
  3. Individual responsibility for desk cleaning on entry and exit
  4. Workplace entry, hygiene, visitor requirements (temperature checks for some) procedures and policies
  5. Written policy and procedures that cover all these things
  6. Extra cleaning
  7. Escalation / issues reporting & resolution...

Others remain 100% at home, see no immediate reason to return and are reconsidering their office space requirements for the future.

3. CEO guidance regarding coronavirus responses

This section provides our guidance on management and communication responses.

1. Think about world stage in terms of scenario planning

Given where we sit in marketing and communication for financial services, this may seem like unusual advice, but it plays a role in scenario planning and is directly connected to strategy. How we “do” leadership and communication is how (and whether) we get strategy done. Where Australia sits politically may have a bigger impact on your business, whether that’s to do with travel restrictions or where our growth markets are attractive or not.

2. Review your media and marketing spend

Look at your go-to market approach, and where you can get evidence-based results. This might be to do with database building, via paid media, or it might be about increasing engagement. We’ve seen many funds doing that well lately.

3.  Stay human in your communication

Notice LinkedIn has gone off like a rocket and is far more personal? We’re seeing audiences there, and on Facebook, respond well to more ‘person’ in messages from their super fund, insurer, financial planner or product provider.

Right now, your audience wants to see human faces and hear human voices. A note from the CEO, personally signed off, is more important. So is video, live or recorded. So are personal updates on social media.  If you’re not using video, or including your photo in your messages, maybe you should be. Things like this help your audience to see you as a person - not just a business - and will help you immensely.

4. Appendix: How to help us help you

This briefing is collective intelligence gathered, anonymised and shared with you by my firm for the greater good. We’ve taken the view, based on client feedback, that the collective benefit to you all takes precedence over normal competitive pressures at a time like this.

This is an excerpt from one of our client COVID-19 CEO response briefings. For more COVID-19 response resources and guidance, visit our COVID-19 Response page

If you’d like to discuss adjusting your communication strategy for the current times, please call us or fill out our contact form here.

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