Johanna Rief is the Director of Public Relations and Head of Sexual Empowerment at WOW Tech – a company that designs, manufacturers, and markets premium intimate pleasure products. We caught up with Johanna to find out what her role involves, as well as how Covid-19 has affected the company.

Johanna Rie

Please describe your job: What do you do?

I started to work for Womanizer in May of 2017, and back then I was the company’s third employee. Today, we have 170 colleagues in offices in Berlin, Ottawa, and Hong Kong. We merged with the brand We-Vibe and became WOW Tech Group in 2018.

My job and responsibilities have changed a lot in the past three years alongside the growth we have experienced during that time. Today I’m Director of Public Relations and therefore supervise all PR and Social Media activities for all our brands globally.

Due to the fact that we are very restricted in our marketing efforts (e.g. Social Media ads or Google retargeting aren’t allowed), it is even more important that we have a good relationship with journalists and the press in general to generate reach for our brands, and to increase our brand awareness. To achieve this, we have a strong focus on storytelling and creating creative and attention-grabbing PR campaigns which we also distribute through all our own channels.

How has your typical day been impacted in the short term by the pandemic?

For WOW Tech Group, the priority is first and foremost the safety of our colleagues, partners, and those working on the front lines in warehouses and manufacturing to get products to customers. And not just their physical safety, but their mental and financial well-being, too.

This means we all work remotely. Even our R&D team (who would typically work in our laboratories in Berlin and Ottawa) are now working on the development of new products in improvised laboratories in home offices.

The home office situation in particular was quite challenging for me in the first weeks. I enjoy going to our beautiful office, meeting other team members and having the chance to chat with them face-to-face. I realised that working remotely means many more video calls and that takes up a lot of time and energy. The physical distance can also sometimes lead to information being lost and so company-wide, detail-oriented communication is more important than ever.

But that’s not all that has changed. At the beginning of the corona crisis, we started planning for worst-case scenarios in order to assess possible consequences and develop procedures accordingly. One of three measures was cutting all expenses as much as possible. That meant that we needed to think of PR ideas and pitches that cost literally nothing. It was challenging but it also gave us the opportunity to be even more creative and bold.

What are your favourite tools and techniques to help you get your work done at the moment?

The most important factor in maintaining good team relationships is video calling, for which we use Microsoft Teams. To plan to-do’s and keep the overview who is working on what, we use Trello.

A “technique” that is always key – especially when working in a start-up where there are always many more tasks than time – is prioritisation. We have set up our own Covid Trello board and hold two meetings a week with all our executives globally. We want to ensure that we focus on the right projects during this uncertain time.

Which companies have impressed you during the pandemic?

I am particularly impressed by smaller companies, businesses or start-ups that have had to change their entire business model during the crisis and managed to do so – likely with only a very small budget.

What changes are you making to help your company connect with how people are feeling and experiencing the pandemic?

Most of our departments or teams do a check-in video call each morning. This is not just about distributing tasks or giving feedback, but about a continuous exchange of information on the team’s current mood or emotional state. Often it can be very helpful if someone simply has the opportunity to talk about their feelings and whether they’re having a bad day. We recommend everyone go out for at least 30 minutes a day and take a walk or do sports, to help clear their head.

We have also made sure that every one of the employees who needed working materials such as screens, keyboards, office chairs or even tables, were delivered the right items to their home address. The physical always has a significant effect on someone’s psychological state, so we wanted to ensure that colleagues don’t develop avoidable problems like back pain just because they don’t have a proper office chair at home.

What trends have you seen in the last few weeks in your sector?

We have focused on looking at our customers’ purchasing patterns before and during Covid-19 to gain insight into their motivations. During the last few months, we’ve seen an incredible spike in sales worldwide. Our global data year to date showed more than a 50% surge on original forecasts for We-Vibe and Womanizer.

The sales numbers have now returned to normal but we are still deeply grateful that we were able to get through the first few months so smoothly. We know that many other businesses haven’t been so lucky and are continuing to struggle.

What advice would you give a marketer right now?

Embrace the challenge. There is nothing we can do about Covid and the current situation, but we do have control over how we react to it. Focusing on what will no longer work or what we cannot do anymore will lead to even more frustration, stress and anxiety about the future. Instead, we need to think about what is still possible and how we can contribute to it.

For example, ecommerce and online products have seen a huge surge across all industries – what are new ways we can leverage this knowledge? How can we reach an audience that spends even more time online? Even though social distancing measures have been loosened in a lot of countries, we are still not back to normal and people are still more likely to turn to online offers.

What does long term planning and strategy look like now at your company?

Thankfully, we have quickly adapted our company-wide strategy as soon as it became clear how much Covid would affect our business. Right now, we have fixed projects, campaigns, launches and goals we want to implement and achieve within the upcoming months. One of our priorities is the launch of our male brand Arcwave at the end of September.

Furthermore, an important part of our strategy is to remain the biggest innovator in the industry. That means we will continue to invest time and budget in R&D and will expand the department over the next months and years. 30% of our employees in Berlin already work full-time on the development of new toys and technologies. We always aim to be at least a step ahead of the game when it comes to innovation.

We are also looking into new markets, for example in Asia. At the moment, our products are available in over 60 countries but this is only the beginning.