Please describe your job: What do you do?

I’m in the fortunate position to lead around 150 of the smartest talent across our offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo, Singapore and Moscow, working to deliver innovative digital marketing solutions that provide tangible change and strong growth for clients.

My role involves spearheading client strategy and partnerships, with a focus on strategically shaping our offering in APAC & RU to ensure we’re constantly evolving and on the leading edge of digital media services. With a primary goal to help clients navigate this complex and nuanced region, I ensure we’re innovating at the same pace with our platform partners and keeping up to speed with shifts in each market.

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

Being based in Hong Kong, I have been amazed with the local response. People in Hong Kong started to take precautions early on, meaning cases have stayed low and we’ve been able build confidence back with our people and clients very quickly. This means the Hong Kong team and I are now back in the office and have some semblance of normality again!

Normally I would be travelling once or twice a month to visit our in-market teams, but of course, I’m now managing everything remotely, and working to support them in navigating the current climate for our clients. The situation is incredibly fluid with each market recovering at a different speed, but we’ve learned a lot from our Shanghai office as it affected them early on.

My priority continues to be my people’s safety and wellbeing, and even though we’re closer to the end of the pandemic than the start, we are still not letting our guard down. So, we are continuing to closely monitor the local environments for our people and to adapt or respond at pace to market changes to support our clients in delivering a strong rebound.

On a personal level, the most significant change to my day has been the time I’ve got to spend with my  two year old daughter. She was delighted to have me at home, and now she’s not been too happy that I’m back in the office. While the time at home was fantastic, I’m pleased to see my Spotify algorithm and my “discover weekly” play list gradually returning to normal from the nursery rhymes that were on loop while I was working from home.

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

During this time when there is a lot of uncertainty, be it about health, the economic impact, jobs, or clients, the way through it all is to communicate. We operate as a single team that sit across six offices, so we were already well tuned on working remotely and teams are used to connecting over conference calls. Naturally we’ve had to push this further but our people have been incredibly receptive and adaptable over recent months.

Our agency all use the same platform, Microsoft Teams, which helps to stay in contact and also allows staff to adjust their status so they can get away and take a break rather than fielding pings all day. A general recommendation early on was for video on in meetings but over time, I alternated this, as the feedback we received was that video was less natural than in real life, and you can have a much faster following conversation with just voice. Of course, a smiling video call always helps!

As ever the core principles have rung through. Offer support, communicate regularly and also give people space. Those still under a version of lockdown do need time to get away and step away from their laptop, we encouraged that as often as we can.

Which companies have impressed you since the outbreak?

The agility of a number of brands have certainly impressed; from restaurants running food delivery with cooking tutorials, through to sports brands streaming home workouts. An impressive example from China is cosmetic company Lin Qingxuan, which was forced to close 40% of its stores, including all branches in Wuhan. They took the step of moving a number of their in-store beauty advisors online and through both social and online streaming via WeChat were able to drive customer engagement and sales online. The results for their Wuhan business saw sales up an incredible 200% year on year. A great example of pivoting from something traditionally tied to offline behaviour, online.

This integration between social, video and ecommerce has gained significant momentum over recent weeks and not just in China. In South Korea, both Lotte & Hyundai Department Stores ran a live streaming broadcast with influencers through Naver to show case new arrivals and to drive online sales.

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

At ForwardPMX, we’ve opened our doors to clients looking for advice in navigating these uncertain times. We continue to provide regular commentary on shifts in behaviour and guidance on how to respond, delivered through playbooks, webinars and platform workshops.

We strive to be a strategic partner to brands during these moments of significant change and help them to understand how the concept of the new normal may apply to them, today and in the future. 

In Asia, as we faced this pandemic early on, we have been working to share learnings on what lockdowns mean for our people and our clients, monitoring changes on consumer behaviour through the dynamics of recovery and what happens when cities open up. This has been incredibly important in helping our teams and our clients in EMEA and North America get ahead in this challenging time.

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

Covid-19 continues to accelerate digital adoption, both for consumers and businesses. Brands were forced to adapt quickly at the start of the pandemic, and for those markets where restrictions are starting to lift, brands are taking a harder look at their long-term digital plans.

What’s been reaffirmed is the importance of having a data-driven mandate. Having a clear view of your existing client base, and the changes to their wants and needs has helped many brands effectively pivot in the past few months. As a result of this we’re having more conversations with brands on their data infrastructure, both to effectively understand consumer behaviour and building bespoke audiences, but also in directing these insights into their media strategies to deliver the best experience to the most relevant customer.

What advice would you give a marketer right now?

It’s likely that some behavioural shifts linked to Covid-19 will be here to stay, so brands need to further customize their approach and have stronger stories to tell. Once again there’s no time like the present to invest in your ecosystem to build a stronger understanding of what your consumer data looks like. We’re effectively moving to a first party data world and this pandemic has accelerated the need to understand your own audience – let’s reconsider how we’re engaging our customers and tailor communications to suit. The pace of the pandemic has meant brands had to improvise and adapt very quickly, and this often means that they have gone with a standardized approach.

Given the behaviour shifts we would also encourage brands to keep testing. We’ve seen big uptakes in live streaming, including shoppable streaming in China, and over-the-top video both in YouTube and beyond. Both have been driven by a need to social-distance but we fully expect consumers to remain engaged in this space in the future. These are two great opportunities to be discovered, and with the consumer quickly evolving brands need the confidence and courage to keep testing to see what sticks.

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

We want to ensure we have healthy and happy people, so that takes priority. We have to understand how this pandemic has impacted the way people work. We’ve really leaned into remote working, and in reality, it’s something quite easy to adopt as our employees are used to that dynamic. Agencies are under increasing pressure and we strive to give our workforce the freedom to work when and where they’re most effective, especially around personal circumstances. Our offices working as fluid teams are extremely important, especially during the changing stages of the pandemic.

As an agency we’re positioned to sit between the drive for digitalisation and also helping business achieve tangible growth. At this moment in time, both of these are incredibly important objectives. Businesses are bruised because of the pandemic, and some of the effects are going to last for a while, but we’re grounded in our mission to ‘help clients find change and fuel growth’ and support them to accelerate their position online and win the rebound. We’ve invested further in our Consultancy offering, supporting brands in their digital positioning, data infrastructure, consumer insights and business intelligence, enabling us to deliver meaningful and tangible business results beyond media.