Thinking and Planning in a New Paradigm: Short-, Mid- and Long-Term

Certainty has been among the hardest things to come by in these trying times. If anything is for sure right now, it’s that no one has a crystal ball. (How’s that for circular reasoning?) Fortunately, certainty’s younger cousin, clarity, is starting to make a comeback. We are starting to see what’s been working for our agencies, our clients and their stakeholders these past weeks. Moreover, we are becoming better able to assess which of our often new – sometimes, surprisingly different – ways of operating may be keepers for the longer haul, and which are more fleeting, as the picture of a changed consumer slowly comes into focus.

Our team has been applying such learnings to plan for clients across three timeframes: now-summer, fall-holiday and 2021. There are two phenomena that we believe will endure. First, the lowering of walls between clients and agencies. We all know that the most effective and satisfying work grows from relationships steeped in openness, fairness, mutual accountability and common purpose. The experience of these past months has made our best relationships even better through more transparency, a shared sense of urgency, and not least, a warm helping of humanity.

A second and hopefully lasting change: a similar lowering of guardrails by media. We are seeing a new openness by editors and producers to collaborate with our teams to spotlight brands with the expertise, products, services and content to genuinely make lives even just a little better. One example comes by way of our client Nintendo, whose perfect for sheltering-at-home game Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been embraced for its pure, good spirited, escapist fun. 

Brands earning their fair share of meaningful coverage and social media engagement are ones that have remained relevant to their evolving audiences – a topic that we were examining at 360 before the crisis hit in full force. Research on relevance that we conducted with 300 senior marketing decision-makers in early March revealed that a culture of adaptability plays a big role. One interviewee said, “The brand that is open to consistent change with the culture and environmental needs of the times is one that clearly demonstrates relevance.”

At no time in our professional lives has that been more essential. For one, Tommee Tippee, a child feeding brand and longtime agency client, has for years been masterful at maintaining relevance with an ever-shape-shifting audience of parents-to-be by embracing them as real people, not the perfect caregivers we can only dream to be. It made their sheltering-at-home pivot altogether natural, embodied in a campaign we co-created with them called #SmileOn that invites parents (current and to-be) to avail themselves of resources like on-demand yoga classes, de-stress workouts and even virtual museum tours. 

All that in mind, here’s a look at our approach to the immediate-, near- and longer-terms. In many instances, we are melding all three periods through scenario planning that considers internal and external triggers that can signal returns to feasibility for certain activities, from certain types of earned media outreach to the renewal of fully integrated campaigns.     

Now-Summer

  • Press the reset button more often. Even as our lives have been routinized in previously unimaginable ways, wake up expecting that at least one thing will change for every client – as it often does. For more dynamic categories, some of our teams have moved to short daily morning meetings (whether over Zoom, Chime, e-mail, phone, Microsoft Teams…) to talk what’s changed and how we may need to shift course.
  • Keep it real. A late-April analysis of consumer attitudes and behaviors by Morning Consult recommended, “First and foremost, focus on real action around functional needs…think availability, cleanliness, safety and reliability.” Straight talk about what products or services actually do has never been more welcome. 
  • Be always-on with content. Even while our in-house production studio has been off-limits, the flow of content from our creative team continues strong and has become an even bigger asset for our clients. How-to and other flavors of video and live virtual events have proved essential not only for brands’ social channels and paid placement, but also as compelling offers to earned media outlets. In one notable example, we taught our whiskey client Sagamore Spirit on the fly how to shoot and edit iPhone b-roll for its hometown Baltimore newscasts.      

Fall-Holiday

  • Ramp up alliances. Breaking through for consumer brands this holiday season will be more about who says it best, not necessarily loudest. It comes back to relevance, which may be a challenge for products and services most often enjoyed away from home. Consider cooperative marketing and other kinds of alliances with brands that don’t face such obstacles, that have audiences and sensibilities in common with yours and can benefit from your strong equity, reputation and awareness.       
  • Bring your data “A-game.” Hard numbers from trusted sources are coin-of-the-realm like never before, so start thinking now about the depth and breadth of data you’ll need to tell your most persuasive stories come gift buying time. If your client or brand can self-generate data, set up protocols to keep it fresh as the season progresses. Otherwise, budget for third-party research. We developed a dashboard with our client Drizly, the leading online alcohol marketplace, that is refreshed weekly and has become a resource for a wide variety of media seeking the latest on category and retail trends.
  • Recalibrate metrics. Don’t wait. Take the time now to reset what success means and how it should be measured through the rest of the year. Develop scenarios for and with your clients or internal stakeholders that consider best-to-worst business cases – and discuss how agency partners’ effectiveness under each can be reasonably evaluated. 

2021

  • Warm to the possibilities. Really. Since getting a handle on what next year (let alone next month) will look like, invest longer-term planning time in what can be for clients and your agencies, not what can’t. What can be reinvented? What can we control? How can we become even more indispensable to media that now better understands our value? Where are consumers moving and how can we meet them there? Some of the best company, brand and agency stories have emerged from the toughest of times. As marketers, who are we if not optimists?

Rob Bratskeir is an Executive Vice President at 360PR+, based in our NYC office. Reach him at rbratskeir@360pr.plus.