What’s happening in the world of adtech since the coronavirus crisis hit? We caught up with Michael Nevins, CMO at Smart Adserver, to find out.

Please describe your job: What do you do?

I’m a NYC-based CMO for Smart AdServer, a global adtech company headquartered in Paris. I manage a team of 12, and our scope of work includes internal communications and events, product marketing, demand generation, external events, and media relations. I’m also a member of Smart’s Strategic Board.

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

Although I’m based in NYC, the majority of my team and colleagues are based in Europe. As a result, I manage my team and interact with colleagues via video conference – and have done for almost three years now. So spending my days on video conferencing platforms hasn’t been much of an adjustment. However, I do feel the lockdown has wiped out any sense of geographical boundaries and accelerated the process of “globalisation” within our company. Where there were previously disparities between my schedule and that of those in Paris, I now have a greater sense of being “together” with everyone.

This is driven by the additional hours I now have that overlap with those in Europe, due to not having to commute. As a remote manager, my typical day has always included weekly video calls with each of my direct reports, but we now also have a daily optional meeting for the team to make sure we maintain communication and collaboration. But most importantly it’s been a chance to connect personally as a group, to see and hear each other, and to provide support both professionally and personally.

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

In terms of techniques, I’ve learnt that working remotely – especially across borders, cultures, and languages – requires a more deliberate approach to communication. It takes a lot of work, and various factors must be continually considered, such as the channel, frequency, time of day, messaging, and tone I am using.

I am aided in this by a number of different tools, of which I have a love-hate relationship. BlueJeans is the obvious one; used by our entire organisation for video conferences. Slack is also a critical tool; creating an opportunity for informal, ad hoc communication with my colleagues. In addition, I find I’m particularly dependent on the multiple time zone displays I have in Google Calendar, as well as a few other world-clock tools. Lastly, I use Evernote in a personal capacity to manage all the note-taking in my life. I can even shout to Alexa while I’m in the shower to add my thoughts – you never know when an idea will pop into your head!

Which companies have impressed you since the outbreak?

Rather than a specific brand or company, I’ve been extremely impressed by the strong sense of compassion I’m seeing – something I didn’t notice in previous financial downturns. Many marketers have had to go through painful adjustments to their budgets, resulting in layoffs and furloughs for many on their teams, and I know some have taken pay cuts to keep their teams working and safe. This sense of solidarity is a small silver lining for me.

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

It’s a tricky time for most of us to be marketing, but we are accustomed to reacting quickly to industry changes.

The team at Smart AdServer met early-on to discuss our existing plan and to consider how it should be re-evaluated in light of the new context.

We firstly instituted a wide range of programmes to increase employee engagement. In such a stressful time, we feel it is especially important to take extra care with our teams, and that means sensitivity to all of their needs, both professional and personal. Communication and transparency become more critical at such a time, so we’ve scheduled more frequent all-hands meetings, online birthday celebrations, lunches, happy hours, health and wellness programmes, and work from home forums.

Moreover, we try to always remember that you never know what a member of your target audience might be going through on any given day. Because the situation is so fluid, it’s critical to watch what others are doing in the market and adjust constantly. It’s key to avoid appearing inauthentic, or opportunistic, and we try to focus on messages of compassion, as well as those that promote helpful initiatives for our clients and partners.

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

As we are primarily involved with programmatic advertising tech, we have a lot of data related to which advertiser categories are spending, and with which publisher content categories. It’s very dynamic, and we’ve seen how certain things, in various geographies, were affected by the crisis earlier than others. For example, with lower overall ad spend, and fewer deals at the moment, our data shows eCPMs are down in Spain and France. However, in Italy, we saw the eCPM start to go back up after a couple of weeks of lockdown, an encouraging trend we hope to see in the UK.

What advice would you give a marketer right now?

A few things come to mind immediately:

  • Think with both the brain and the heart. Sensitivity, empathy, and compassion are more valuable than ever;
  • Re-evaluate your entire plan through the lens of COVID-19 (if you haven’t already). Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Carefully consider the upside of your actions with the potential risks. One negative viral social post can do a lot of harm to a brand;
  • Adopt even more of a “How can we help?” attitude and tone in your messaging;
  • Appreciate the things that are good in your life.

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

As our space is typically very dynamic – and even more so now – it’s critical to maintain a focus on both short and long-term horizons. Our long-term strategy remains the same, but we’re mindful of new opportunities. Sometimes a crisis can act as a catalyst to accelerate changes in a market and, although some players may find their businesses disrupted, we’re taking heart from the prospective customers we’re talking to. As many are forced to reevaluate their priorities, they are looking for help from a company that cares, and we are very happy to provide the required support.