Vicky Bullen is the CEO of global branding agency Coley Porter Bell. Econsultancy caught up with her to find out how she is adjusting to the ‘new normal’ of the coronavirus crisis, the tools she uses and the trends she has seen in her sector.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
I am CEO of Coley Porter Bell, a global branding agency that is part of Ogilvy and WPP. My role ranges from laying out our vision and our business priorities to actually helping to deliver the work – I am still actively involved in leading client business and I love nothing more than being involved in discussions around brand strategy and creative reviews.
How has your typical day been impacted in the short term by the pandemic?
It doesn’t feel like the short term anymore! I have had to adjust the rhythm of the week to make more time for checking in with the company and with individuals. We have a weekly company catch up, weekly management team catch ups and a weekly check in with my leadership team. I’m also doing weekly one to ones with the leadership team so lots more diarised contact to make up for no longer having the chat over the desk.
On the plus side I have also been able to build in a run every morning which is a great counterbalance to the rest of the day being somewhat static!
What are your favourite tools and techniques to help you get your work done at the moment?
Well of course Zoom and Teams and Facetime. I have also discovered WhatsApp calls – they are great for a quick informal group chat. We have tried to get more disciplined about running meetings effectively – making sure agendas are clear in advance, objectives are articulated clearly – it’s helping us to keep Zoom time as under control as possible.
I’ve also tried to make sure that alongside the scheduled work meetings and calls we are building in a bit of time for informal check ins and chats – so we do virtual drinks on a Friday and every Wednesday we have a virtual coffee and chat.
Which companies have impressed you since the outbreak?
I really admired the brands that moved so quickly to help or to manage the situation – so Pret A Manger for example who came out so quickly to support NHS workers. I love how brands like Dove have responded – staying absolutely true to their brand’s DNA and supporting the health workers who have had to live in uncomfortable PPE for weeks on end.
I have to admire the supermarkets who have had to completely reengineer the store experience and face up to the huge demand for home delivery. They have been quick and have communicated well with regular email updates to customers.
And I admire businesses like Admiral who recognised that with fewer drivers on the road, insurance claims had decreased and therefore gave their customers a £25 rebate. That’s how to build loyalty for post-pandemic times in a market where people increasingly shop around.
What changes are you making to help your brand connect with how people are feeling and experiencing the pandemic?
In our business we are trying to help our clients as they manage their brands through the pandemic. For example, we are really proud to have worked with Tesco to help them create a design for their Rainbow Cookies For Carers in aid of Salute the NHS.
In the early days it was about talking to brands about business continuity and their tactical response to the pandemic. Now, the conversation has become more strategic and shifted to how brands should respond for the long term, how the pandemic has permanently changed consumer needs and desires, and what that means for our clients’ businesses and brands – what should they stand for, how should they behave.
What trends have you seen in the last few weeks in your sector?
Our clients are looking for agility and speed to help them respond tactically to a very fast changing environment – the Tesco project I mentioned was about three weeks from concept to shelf.
We have seen ingenious ways of adapting to working remotely – we have found new technology that we have never engaged with before to run workshops remotely, we’ve worked with photographers who are finding ways of shooting in their homes, ads are being created that can be shot and produced remotely. The sector has risen to the challenge and is looking to find new ways to make sure its clients and their brands are still served.
I’ve also noticed how brands and businesses are really understanding the importance of looking after their people during this time – our clients want to understand how best to engage their employees and ensure their wellbeing and loyalty.
And of course, we are also seeing how many clients are accelerating their digital transformation and looking to build or amplify their D2C offers.
What advice would you give a marketer right now?
Stay focussed on your brand and what it stands for – use that as the lens to guide your behaviours and your response to this pandemic. Keep your promises and make sure that you are acting not just saying. This is a time where it is possible to build powerful brand equity by really understanding your brand’s role in people’s lives in a changed world.
What does long term planning and strategy look like now at your brand?
Our agency proposition is all about turning change into opportunity. This is wholly relevant for all our clients right now so we’ve been looking to see what longer term opportunities might come from the changes caused by the pandemic and what their needs might be over the next year then developing our offer accordingly.
For example, we are partnering with colleagues at Ogilvy to offer a fully integrated D2C offer that will give clients quick access to Direct Selling Channels with a rapid start-up.
We are facing more turbulent times with a global recession seemingly certain. Our task will be to keep on helping our clients to build brand equity during those times because we know that the brands with the strongest equity will ride recessions better and come out stronger.
We have started to plan for a return to the office later this year – but slowly, and certainly not in a back to normal way – our priority will be keeping our people safe. However, I for one cannot wait to be back in the office, working with my fantastic colleagues and enjoying those serendipitous moments that come out of the casual chat over the desk. I hate to say it, but I even miss my commute a little!