How Covid-19 is changing the business and the industry at large, according to Memac Ogilvy’s Chief Executive MENA, and Ogilvy’s Chief Digital Officer EMEA, and Executive Partner Worldwide.
How is COVID-19 reshaping the marketing and advertising industry in MENA?
When it comes to any major social or cultural transition, it takes time for us to be able to fully assess the long-term impact on any industry, and whether or not it will experience any kind of reshaping. In the short-term, Covid-19 has further placed purpose-driven communications in the spotlight. Brands are now becoming more aware of the role this generation wants and expects them to play in their lives. This isn’t anything new, but with the current environment, combined with other challenging social and cultural issues on a global scale in and around the pandemic, we’re happy to see brands pay more attention to this.
Broadly speaking, we’ve seen a renewed emphasis on creativity. One of the deep-rooted talents of our industry is generating impactful ideas [in] challenging circumstances. We’ve been creating omnichannel campaigns from our sofas, using props and materials [laying] around the house.
Secondly, clients are turning their attention to changing consumer behaviors and understanding how consumers are moving and making decisions. It’s fair to assume that certain behaviors may change indefinitely. The industry will need to be more alert, aware, and spend more time asking why as well as what. Our clients have reached out for help from our behavioral science practice, which not only helps in understanding behavior but also advises on how communications need to be optimized to support or drive new habits.
Moreover, we’ve seen an increased interest in our consulting offering. Clients are asking for support in digital transformation and business design, organizing themselves for the new normal.
How does this differ in other markets across the region?
The region is fast becoming a global center of excellence. We are fortunate to have such diversity and individuality throughout the region, but we have also witnessed a consistent and mature response to the pandemic.
What measures have you taken to mitigate risks?
Ogilvy is a people business, first and foremost, and our employees and clients are of course our highest priorities. From a health and safety perspective, we activated remote working early on, and have excelled under the conditions. Thanks to technology and a powerful collaborative culture, we haven’t missed a beat. I’m proud to say that we’ve developed a unique culture of togetherness, creativity, and collaboration that we anticipate will inspire, to some degree, our future working model.
From a business perspective, we’ve always been well configured for rebound and growth during and post-crisis. We’ve also witnessed high demand for a number of our services. Given our integrated model, we’re well positioned to service many of our clients in a holistic way. Clients have benefitted from some of our more brand-critical services, such as crisis management, reputation management, and employee engagement within our PR and influence capability.
How could this crisis lead to deeper transformation and change the way you operate in the long-term?
The pandemic has highlighted the need for further integration of capabilities and fewer silos within the industry, in order to be able to seamlessly operate with one another and with the client’s business challenges at the center. We also feel brands have now begun to take notice of the fact that along with fast, efficient, and effective execution, we can also support them strategically. We’ve been on this path of integration and consulting at Ogilvy for more than three years now, and that preparation has served us well in recent months.
The pandemic may also force the hand for digital transformation and an increase in collaboration across sectors, from a technological point of view. Fortunately, we were well prepared, with the right tools and infrastructure to remain effective, for both ourselves and clients during this unprecedented time.
How have clients reacted to the crisis and what do you advise them to do?
This situation has been different for and has had a different impact on many of our clients. There is really no one-size-fits-all response to this, as cliché as that may sound.
As an agency dedicated to making our brands culturally and socially relevant, we have advised not to forget to invest in brand communications to reinforce [the organization’s] true purpose and meaning. Many brands have leaned towards tactical communications to drive sales, but the pandemic has shown the importance of brand strength in the long-term. Consumers need to know, at these times, exactly what you stand for and believe in, and they will gravitate towards those brands that play their part in the [social conversation] – walk the walk, so to speak.
As early as February, we engaged with our network around the world to form a clear and balanced understanding of the situation, to give educated and informed consultation to our clients, and assess the impact on their brand and business. From there, we have developed scenarios based on the nature of our clients’ unique industries and market positions. These have led to solutions, campaigns and programs that engage with all relevant stakeholders, from their employees to the board of directors.
What lessons from previous crises have helped you face the current situation?
We live in a region that has shown an unrivaled resilience to dealing with social, economic, political and cultural challenges throughout its long, rich history. This part of the world has always stared such challenges in the face, embraced the future, and invested in a stronger, healthier tomorrow. However, this pandemic has been like no other, given today’s interconnected, digital and social society. What this situation has shown us is that people are socially and culturally closer than we may have previously believed.
What will you take from this pandemic once we’ve passed it?
We [always knew] that the future will be digital, but [this pandemic] has been a harsh demonstration of that fact. We have seen and will continue to see an acceleration in e-commerce, digital and social media communications with consumers who are adopting new behaviors, and valuing and prioritizing new things. We have been putting social media creativity and performance at the heart of everything we do for years, so I was happy to see the growth of certain platforms and channels for authentic communication and engagement with consumers, and I hope it lasts. The growth of TikTok in the region, as an example, further demonstrates our appetite for pervasive creativity, optimized for digital and driven through data-informed media. This sophisticated and precise approach to communications will continue to open doors for brands and agencies, evolving the relationship between brand and consumer — which, as shown by this pandemic, continues to take on more meaning and more purpose year after year.