In terms of Covid 19 the agency industry in China is a few weeks ahead of current developments in Europe. We spoke to Richard Summers from Anomaly Shanghai about the impact Corona has on his employees, customers and projects.
Covid 19 had a firm grip on China for weeks. What did that mean for Anomaly in Shanghai? How did you organize the agency work?
Thankfully, everyone is still in good health and staying vigilant. Since things really erupted around Chinese New Year time, the initial impact was in terms of disruption to peoples' holidays. Some people were stuck in Shanghai and could not get back to their hometowns, while others who had already left were stuck wherever they had travelled to. Now most people are back to Shanghai, have completed a period of mandatory self-isolation for 14 days, and with a few exceptions, we are operating at full capacity.
For Anomaly, our business has always centered around solving the business challenges our clients face. So in one sense, it is very much back to business as usual for us. We just have new problems that we need to solve in creative ways. Of course, how we do it may change, but our business, at its core, remains the same.
How do you motivate your colleagues to work for weeks from home office? Did you set up new working routines?
As an agency with seven offices around the world and clients across China, we were already using platforms like Zoom extensively, so it was not hard to adapt to this new way of working.
Our employees are on the whole more senior and experienced, therefore by nature self-driven and motivated, and can “find” work to do. As I mention below we also did a number of proactive projects. We stuck to regular weekly meetings and just switched over to Zoom instead.
What did that mean for your clients? Did a lot of them stop campaigns, change projects or even start new ones?
A number of our clients pushed back product launches until the situation becomes more favorable. Some were quick to react and we are in the process of developing “virus- response campaigns” for them. And for others, we proactively developed a think-piece that explored some of the longer terms impacts and implications for brands and businesses in China, which we are in the process of sharing with various clients in order to help support them in the coming months and years.
Is there a best practice you would like to share? What was it about and why was it that successful?
When we doing Working from Home, it was more about keeping communication channels open and “over-sharing”, in a sense to compensate for the physical separation.
Now we reopened the office we covered the costs of employees taking taxis to avoid public transport; implemented temperature checks whenever people entered the office; made mask wearing mandatory, and at the same time,, tried to avoid unnecessary large meetings or gatherings.
For parents, as children are not back in school, we are also more flexible and allowing them to continue work from home whenever they need.
What are your key learnings from corona pandemic for your agency or marketing in China in general?
I think on one level, there are the obvious things like new ways of working, being flexible, agile, responsive and so on.
At the same time, I think this incident also highlights the interconnectivity and interdependence of modern life and business. To achieve anything, we all rely on others. Collaboration is the only way we can succeed.
In China, one thing it has also highlighted is the importance of (and reliance on) e-commerce. China is one of the most developed markets in the world when it comes to e-commerce. We were already seeing a shift in power base in many organizations from marketing to e-commerce, and that will only get stronger.
Inevitably, this will have a commercial impact on the entire global economy, and our industry as a part of that. As some clients cut or reallocate budgets, or as consumers shifts in behaviour, agencies which lack a clear positioning or reason to exist will struggle as a result of that.
Finally, from a talent point of view, I imagine many people will also reassess what they are doing with their lives. So again, companies which lack a strong culture will find it hard to retain or attract the talent.
Thankfully, at Anomaly we have both of those things in good measure, so while things are challenging, we are optimistic about the future.
Richard Summers is Chief Strategy Officer & Partner at Anomaly Shanghai
Interview: Simone Reifenberger (GWA)