Surviving 2020: Cat Davis looks back at the year everything changed

Cat Davis - surviving 2020

As the year of the COVID pandemic limps off to the self-isolation of ‘the past’, we’re looking at how 2020 has changed us.

Some of us are still here, still working, still creating, still delivering. Others have gone. Some – including us – have wobbled – but somehow still managed to find help and support from an awesome industry.

And Cat Davis, Group Marketing Director, krow, part of The MISSION Group has kindly shared how she and her colleagues, industry fellows and clients have stepped-up to keep the business ball in the air, so to speak.

Naturally, none of it would have been possible without belief, backbone and a lot of teamwork…

Cat Davis - ready for anything
Season of survival: Cat Davis looks back on a year of industry stoicism that not even the coronavirus could break.

Cat Davis on 2020:

The experience of 2020 has taught us all a valuable lesson – When it comes to producing powerful and engaging brand campaigns, anything is possible.

In the last nine months we have seen brands and agencies overcome the sorts of challenges that have, in the past, prevented great work from ever seeing the light of day.

Extraordinary attitudes

We have seen some extraordinary examples of agility, flexibility, and responsiveness – from KFC rapidly re-working its strapline, to Vodafone and Samsung showcasing their “endless capabilities and data” by filming an ad from home, and Women’s Aid using the permitted daily exercise excursion to shoot empty London streets for its powerful film about the realities of lockdown for many abused women.

Innovation amid unpredictability

To work at all this year, everyone has had to be innovative. It’s been an unpredictable time, but the response to all of this has been impressive.

Think BDW’s Director Mark Leigh appreciates the way that clients have been able to roll with the punches: “Guidance from the House Builders Federation has prevented our clients distributing traditional brochures”, he says.

“This, together with the closure of sales suites has prompted our clients to embrace new online marketing strategies and has enabled us to develop some innovative digital marketing solutions where customers can fully experience a new home from the comfort of their old one.”

digital marketing
Digital marketing:COVID safety rules meant many had to embrace new online marketing techniques.

Digging deep

Behind each of these campaigns is a client and agency that dug-deep and found a way to overcome huge barriers to get the work out there.

This excellence from across the marketing industry was echoed in the activities of MISSION Group agencies.

Sheila Gallagher, Board Account Director at Story, talks about a sense of the client/agency relationship being “enriched” by the pandemic, and fuelling a spirit of collaboration and support.

She says: “A key lesson to take forward is that agile, nimble solutions are achievable – and decisions can be expedited through everyone pulling together as a genuine team with a collective ‘can do’ attitude.”

She adds that a prominent example from the agency was the decision to ensure that Ardbeg Day, the key event in the global CRM whisky programme for Glenmorangie, was delivered as an inaugural virtual global event in May.

“Procrastination was banished – and profitable brand engagement successfully delivered.”

The year of listening

Mongoose CEO, Chris O’Donoghue notes that more thoughtful work emerging this year has gone a long way: “2020 has been the year of listening, self-awareness and intuition.

“Data, insights, and traditional behaviour modelling are all still relevant, but the waves of feelings, reasons, protests, negativity, and positivity have come thicker and faster than ever this year.

“We, as marketeers, have had to call on our more innate skills. To read the room (and the stats). Listen clearly, do not work in silos, remove personal bias, and trust your gut. The risk is high, but so is the reward.”

home working
Home office: WFH became the new norm where we had to learn new ways to understand customer audiences.

Dr Simon Moore, CEO of Innovation Bubble also notes that a qualitative approach has been vital: “Big data has been replaced by the need to understand the ‘why’s’ of their customer audiences.

“Clients have admitted that they are using video calls to gauge the more ‘human side’ of their suppliers.

“So, the off-business chats, the peek into the supplier homes, the appearance of errant children and animals is reassuring them that ‘this is someone like me’ – which is creating a more emotional engagement point beyond just ‘what you can do for them’ – it is also about how you are going to be like doing the service!”

Connections between us all

The connections between people are just as important this year as ever, but it’s very clear when we are apart by necessity that we notice the distance and work hard to bridge those gaps.

Paul Ray, Creative Director, Chapter touched upon the topic: “This year has proved that marketing is a people business, and if we did not know that already, we do now.

“Dealing with colleagues at a distance, keeping a culture going over video calls, and the difficulties of just a general catch-up have shown how much we need and crave contact with real people daily.

“This is a relationship business and being close to clients is what we do. Trying to advise them that those who market in a crisis come out the other side better off is difficult.

video time
Zooming along: 2020 was the year we all got used to being video stars, making Zoom a household name.

“From a distance it is even harder. If you are not lucky enough to be working with senior, experienced clients, this year has been an uphill struggle.”

Trusting the team

Claire Cooper, Director at Speed also notes how working relationships have been tested this year but that trust is a big factor in making things work: “Trust your team that they are OK and will ask for help if they need it. Trust that we can, and we have, delivered award-winning work as a remote team.

“Trust your instincts that if a client goes quiet or changes the brief, something is not quite right. Trust that a bit of time away from the screen won’t end in disaster and may help you come up with a better plan.”

As that sense of trust grows, everyone benefits of course, as Claire Dobbs, CEO of Solaris Health, observes: “I suspect that others will say this too, but the way that our team has gelled and worked together in the face of this has been quite eye-opening and incredibly satisfying – I am quite proud of us all.

“Even though we have not seen one another in many months, I feel a tremendous sense of team solidarity.”

Rethinking relationships

Kate Cox, the CEO of MISSION agency Bray Leino, was impressed by a widespread spirit of client innovation across roles and categories, leading to changes in the ways in which agencies work: “Rethinking our relationship with consumers, and even inventing entirely new products and brands.”

the future
Writing’s on the wall: Innovation came to the fore in 2020 and everyone wants to see it continue into the future.

She hopes that this capacity will “continually evolve, do new and interesting things” and last well into the future.

It’s a point also made by David Dent, the Planning Director at MISSION-owned AprilSix Mobility: “The successful brands and agencies of the future will be those that really create moments that matter.

“Finding these moments will need a deep understanding of human psychology, and we will see a shift away from just delivering numbers on a spreadsheet to forging a deeper emotional consumer connection; rooted in openness and honesty.”

New industry energy and passion

Above all, what I hope we will carry into 2021 is our industry’s new-found energy and passion to conceive and deliver top-notch communications no matter what.

What has your experience of the 2020 been? No doubt it’s been a tough one and we’re all expecting more challenges in the new year, but it’s great to share these stories of challenges, how we got things to work under pressure and the successes that maybe we weren’t expecting to pull off!

Join the conversation and share your year with us (links below), it’s these connections around the good work we do – and the pitfalls – that bring us all together, even if we have to work apart for a little while longer.