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Kaizo Live – US view: the elections, the pandemic and purpose-led movements

Kaizo Live – US view: the elections, the pandemic and purpose-led movements

[00:00:05] Welcome to another Kaizo live on this week’s show, we are visiting the state of play in the US market with more of our US partners from our international weather computer network. Now, as you might know, we last spoke to our US partners on Kaizo life back in early April. At that point, the US, like us in the U.K. and across Europe, were at the very beginning of various stages of lockdown, with the focus firmly on ensuring that organisations were set up to continue to deliver for clients in the coming months. With the media agenda at that point firmly on covid, they, like us, were facing an uncertain time ahead. A lot has changed since then, while media attention remains on call for testing. The past five months have also been a period of significant economic and social upheaval and change, some hopefully representing strides forward in terms of social justice and equality and others not quite so positive for many. Add to that that we have no election campaign season in the US and we wanted to revisit some of our partners to hear their latest views on how all of this is impacting consumer and business confidence in the US. To that end, I’m joined today by managing partner and chief creative officer of Madison Avenue and welcome chair Roger HURNEY, Keith Donovan, who’s president at the Aerofoil Group, and Stephane Pawlak, president and CFO at the public group. So welcome.

[00:01:41] Thank you. Thank you for having us.

[00:01:44] Hello. So as I said, it’s been a couple months since we’ve had a US focus on Kaizo life. And how have you all continue to adapt and change? And what is your new normal actually looking like?

[00:02:01] So, Steph, thanks for having us back and yes, we’re now in months six.

[00:02:07] I think we did speak in April and it’s definitely been continuous turbulence from a market perspective. But as I said in the last time that we were together, we were already seeing companies starting to talk about recovery and what recovery would look like and how to plan for recovery and using the not only at the time for and the opportunity to hopefully stabilise things, but also start to look at, as you say, what the new normal is.

[00:02:38] And, you know, there we’re seeing that the new normal means a company and a brand and an organisation that’s going to have to be able to thrive in the face of continuous turbulence. Obviously, everybody has gone virtual. They’ve embraced digital and automation initiatives for both customer interactions and internal operations and have accelerated really those have astonishing speeds. I mean, you’ve seen companies embrace agile and they’ve all been agile and working towards agility. But you’re finding that basically every organisation, whether they were addressing the agility of their old organisation or not, basically thrust into it. And teams have to come together and lines have been broken down inside inside clients and they’ve been forced into immediate transformation. And so the recovery we’re seeing is, you know, obviously not going to be a straight path. Employees are heading back to work and operations are restarting at different timetables. There are different curves across different countries and regions and counties and cities.

[00:03:51] And you’re going to see an asymmetric recovery as companies in some areas are more effective than others. And you’re seeing opportunities and companies doing what they do in terms of how to be the most helpful in their environment.

[00:04:10] They can step on you make a really good point. It’s been in the six months I think we’ve gone through the five stages of grief and clients and agencies are now in that level of acceptance to where they recognise, OK, new normal, maybe the normal period. And so they have embraced digital in ways that they’ve never done before. They’re reacting to new consumer behaviours in ways they’ve never done before, and they’re restructuring accordingly, whether that’s their physical office environment or how their communications are actually operating and their messaging is going out into the marketplace.

[00:04:49] Yeah, I think we’re certainly seeing the same sort of thing people are settling in, they’re adjusting to this period. Certainly as we look at the workflow that’s kind of coming in our agency and in the work we’re doing with clients, it’s it’s perhaps shorter, more project based work. I think people are thinking a little bit more short term and just taking things step by step. And I think that’s to be expected when you have a lot of turbulence. As we said, that’s I think that’s going to be the norm for some time to come.

[00:05:22] And with that said, May.

[00:05:25] I was just going to add a couple of sentences that there, you know, I’m starting to see two different types of companies starting to emerge. There’s the company that is wanting to go back to normal and kind of using the path of least resistance to try and normalise things. We just want to go back to where the things were and then those companies that are actually committed to the harder path and that they’re recognising that there may not be a normal that you can go back to. And so they’re really starting to kind of reshape and advance their future and kind of resist this gravitational pull to go back to the way things were.

[00:06:05] Absolutely. And on that note, we talked a little bit there about different channels such as digital really being brought to the fore and that whole kind of transformation pace, have. Have you seen a shift in the issues that clients are communicating? And what other new channels are you really finding out being more and or increasingly explicit? Maybe we can start with you.

[00:06:31] Sure. Yeah, I think that’s that’s the story right now. There’s there’s a multitude of issues that dealing with with covid-19 to important issues around social justice and equality, issues around privacy and cybersecurity, the backlash against big tech. These are these are all major issues that companies are really contending with on a daily basis and having having a lot of conversation around. These are the issues that are shaping the narrative of 20, 20 and is, I think, about the multitude of challenges that come with that. I think there’s also a lot of opportunity in that as well. I think there’s an opportunity for companies to think creatively and think big to be able to lead the conversation in a lot of these issues. And that’s really what we’re trying to work with our clients to encourage them to do is to look at the opportunity here. I think, interestingly, to what’s what’s coming of this is a lot of these conversations are happening within different parts of the organisation right there, happening within operations or or H.R. or compliance. And I think that stresses the importance more than ever that communications needs to have a seat at the table in order to really drive the strategy through a lot of these important conversations. So I think that’s critical. And we often think of the role of external communication and how to communicate externally to our different audiences through through all of these these issues. But more importantly, over the last couple of months, what we’ve really seen is the importance of internal communication. And we’re thinking about channels, the importance of educating our employees, building trust, building culture within an organisation. A lot of the communication is having to start there even before we go external with the messages.

[00:08:35] Absolutely, Stephane.

[00:08:38] Yeah, so we’re finding that the shift really has been, you know, a lot in the owned communication, weather brands and products and services and companies had robust own channels to begin with before it struck and how well and adapt.

[00:08:57] Were they able to actually communicate through those channels from an agile perspective?

[00:09:02] Could they do it from anywhere? Could they produce content from anywhere? How how could they adapt and kind of continue to do so through those platforms to create that dialogue? We also found that helpfulness prevails. So brands that found a way to be the most helpful or invented ways for them to be helpful if and they were trying to either fulfil a particular purpose or maybe they were even creating new purposes along the way and found kind of a new value set. And really they’re starting to kind of emerge and change the course of their company as a result.

[00:09:42] I haven’t seen that to SAP HANA. with the clients that we serve it off message that it’s become it’s somewhat sort of this bifurcated approach when it comes to communications externally.

[00:09:55] It becomes like, let’s have that own space and let’s break down the silos inside of our organisation and get our messaging out there in a way that makes the most sense.

[00:10:04] And then let’s lean on our influencers, whether that’s journalists or our consumer advocates or brand advocates. How do we lean on them more? How do we create new social media programmes through them so that there’s this objectivity that’s brought to the issues that that we need to discuss around all the things that kids are saying? It is about being helpful and understanding what issues are happening around diversity and inclusion. And and everyone’s concern around covid selling is is practically dead and helping is replaced it, which has always been probably the best form of selling, but I think companies are now waking up to that realisation.

[00:10:52] So given these shifts, how what kind of initiatives or what kind of responses have you had to put in place with your teams of communications professionals?

[00:11:05] Oh, well, we we at our agency, we’ve always been very digitally focussed anyway, but our clients not necessarily have been. And so they’re recognising that the world is very, very digital, maybe almost too digital, because I think we’re all getting a little fatigued from the amount of organisations out there putting out Zoome ish kind of clients with Microsoft teams and all of that.

[00:11:32] So there’s definitely been a shift into finding new ways to explore and create the kind of content on digital channels that really address consumer behaviours and their concerns. And it’s the message has really shifted within those channels overall. The other shift that we’re seeing is just internally, regardless of how integrated a communications firm is, I’ve seen the change in that actually happening in practise amongst WorldCom partners, amongst friends of mine who have other places where moulted very skill sets are now really being embraced in a more holistic and altruistic sort of way. And so those silos are even being broken down inside communications. And it’s like, oh, you need help. I don’t really know how to work the back end of CMS work, but I’m going to learn and I’ll figure that out for you tomorrow. Like those kinds of things are happening all the time. And I think ultimately clients and agencies are going to be far stronger for it at the end of this.

[00:12:42] Keith, anything from your perspective, in terms of responses from Aerofoil?

[00:12:47] Yeah, I think that shift towards digital has has been huge, as Roger said. I mean, we’re definitely seeing that across the board, quite a lot more receptive to that conversation, understanding that’s really the stuff that they need to start to make in this environment. I’ll tell you, you know, I would say really doubling down on understanding our audiences and spending a lot of time understanding of those fires journeys and what motivates those fires where they’re shifting their attention into different channels and just different means of or different ways that perhaps they’re consuming information right now. That’s been a big part of a lot of the work that we’ve been doing. So maybe going back a step and and making sure that we’re really crisp on those fires journeys and understanding that audience, that’s been very key.

[00:13:42] You know, I think actually you’ve seen one of the greatest upskilling environments that we’ve ever seen in modern history from an agency perspective and a client perspective. There’s a new willingness to try new things. There is. And there is. And we’ve all of a sudden become less. It’s become frictionless, actually, for companies and brands to gravitate to things that are simple, easy and direct and get the message out. I’m old enough to have seen a few recessions in my lifetime or economic upheavals or downturns or whatever. This is the first time in my professional history where brands have really doubled down and tried to communicate through this process and make sure that they’re communicating with it with intent and and really getting rid of all the fluff and stuff that goes around all that sizzle and really just find ways to be helpful and be directed intentional.

[00:14:49] SAP HANA. just you know, you mentioned the upskilling and it’s kind of interesting. When we were doing our confidence index for WorldCom, how six months ago upskilling became like one of the number one concern, one of the top couple of concerns of CEOs with how you can have a force that can upscale. And they weren’t really sure how to do that, but they had a high degree of confidence. It was something that was needed. And now I think we’ve been forced into this situation where it’s happened organically and it’s happened to the masses at the at the companies and not necessarily some sort of, you know, process that was put in place and just sort of find the irony of that fascinating.

[00:15:33] Yeah, and actually the next I wanted to ask and I have a little bit of a discussion around your perceptions of business and consumer confidence currently in the U.S. and and you mentioned the World Confidence Index, and maybe you can tell us a little bit about that and then some of the findings that relate directly to that, these levels of confidence.

[00:15:55] When when we look at the confidence of C Suite across the world, honestly, in dozens of countries, it’s it was prior to this, there was issues around, you know, upskilling and and some environmental concerns and things like that.

[00:16:15] The pandemic is kind of amplified, all of that to where you’ve seen the lines blur between those issues. And people have really embraced upscaling, as Stephane pointed out, and they’ve done it in this organic fashion. However, the confidence has been shaken quite a bit as far as what the future holds. And it’s dropped most in the US and Australia, Asia sort of region by five percent in the last few months. So it’s down below 20 now. It’s like 19 something. And primarily the concern is that it’s dropped amongst fifty five and older. And that typically is those larger Americans are typically the ones that are most confident because they’ve been through recessions, they’ve been through other sorts of of economic downturns and they’ve been through political upheaval. And so they’ve always seen us get through it on the other side. But the pandemic is is something I don’t think we haven’t faced we haven’t tasted in one hundred years truly. And having their confidence shaken is is understandable. And it could be very telling. For what for what things are going to to look like on the other side of this. I don’t think it’s going to be normal. All the indicators in our confidence index are saying, like there’s going to be and it’s already occurring a fundamental shift in how businesses operate, how we operate physically, how we integrate with our employees, how we handle communications, how we sell to customers and adapt to their behaviours. And that’s what that’s what that confidence index is now showing, that that’s going to be that new normal is going to be normal. And in some ways, I think it’s going to be for the better.

[00:18:09] Yeah, I think the world. Com date has been very interesting, and as Roger said, you know, this is a bit uncharted territory for this generation, I think of how this narrative has evolved over the last several months. And there was this idea early on that this wasn’t going to last long. We were going to get through this and summertime was going to look different. Now we’re kind of in that back to school time of year and everyone’s kind of uncertain about what that looks like. And there’s going to be milestones around the holidays after that first of the year. And there is just a continuous stream of uncertainty that people are constantly feeling like they’re on shaky ground. And so the numbers from the world data, it’s reflecting that. And I think we have some time to go here before people that confidence starts to tick up again. But in the meantime, I would agree. I think people are starting to adapt to or at least maybe come to grips with the fact that, yeah, the future is going to need to look different. We are not going to go back to the pre covid days and have business as usual. It’s going to need to look different. And people are sorting through that right now. What does that exactly mean? Business.

[00:19:28] All good points, Roger and Keith. And Roger, to your point about the 55 and older set, you know, I’ve seen all sorts of interesting studies about Gen X and there being kind of one of the most independent generations that have grown up and have seen multiple regular shocks to the system, so to speak. Over time, they seem that those might be the most adaptable to the current situation.

[00:19:56] So I think that maybe speaks to the confidence of my generation. Those thoughts about.

[00:20:04] Right, right.

[00:20:05] And then, I mean, if you look at things like I mean so I also think that that confidence numbers are going to shift as companies are not simply navigating the restart, but they’re actually positioning their company for a world of continued turbulence and regular shock to the system where they’re going to have to be adaptable and resilient in order to create the most value. And so I think that’s when people kind of settle. It’s almost like the quicksand suddenly to how what to do in the cement you like. But I think we’re going to see brands that have to not just restart, they’re going to have to change.

[00:20:44] I just absolutely I I’ve seen clients come to agencies who are a lot more agile, as you put it, and nimble and quick to change and quick to adapt to these situations. Come to us not just from a communications perspective, but for a how should we physically structure our office? How should we break down these barriers of communication internally? How should our workforce integrate from home? And and we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, as everyone has said, giving advice and counsel to clients along a whole set of communications issues that they never included us in. And before on the conversation.

[00:21:24] Yeah, that’s an interesting point. There’s a lot of what are you doing? And kind of best practises and kind of learning from one another, which has been a fascinating part of of all of this. I think just as business leaders turn to one another, could be in completely different industries and are really just trying to absorb what the people around them are doing and try to find the best path forward.

[00:21:48] Absolutely, I think certainly in the U.K. and in Europe, I mean, there’s been a lot of chatter across the board about being more data driven, whether that’s in response to corporates or not.

[00:21:59] And but I think we are certainly seeing from clients, especially on the consumer side, that kind of ongoing measurement and tapping and.

[00:22:11] So that all things are moving so quickly and understanding the different channels that are really going to impact business is going to be critical. And it obviously isn’t just 19 overseas that have a monumental effect across the world, but there are other movements that have a global impact. So I’m thinking I’ve matters the me too movement. How do you think that’s impacting what your clients and sectors are saying about pocket-knives communications? Is it turning into. I think that unfortunately there was a little bit of a tech box and attitude, I think, to a lot of what before now has that changed? What are you seeing?

[00:23:03] Yeah, well, first of all, I mean, these are critically important issues, and I think as business leaders, as professional communicators, as professional marketers, we all have a responsibility to advance social justice in a way that we make decisions for our own business in the way that we counsel our clients. And, you know, there’s been we’ve had a lot of discussion around these issues in our agency almost on a daily basis over these last several months. And there’s a lot of energy around this topic. And that’s that’s wonderful and probably long overdue. Are we seeing real change and a real difference? I think in some places we are, but I think we have a long way to go with these issues. Certainly the conversations we’re having more and more conversations with clients on these topics, and that’s really positive to see to get engaged into those conversations and how they can be making a very real difference in their business. So I think that’s a good first step. But there is a lot of work that needs to be done. And I think there are some very immediate near-term things that businesses can be doing. But there’s other things that are going to take longer. And it is about a cultural shift in the way people think and behave and operate their businesses. And that is going to need to play out over a long period of time. And it’s going to need to be a sustained conversation that we have over a period of time. That’s what it’s going to require. And I hope we continue to give the attention to these issues because it’s it’s what needs to happen.

[00:25:01] I think you’re one hundred percent right. And it’s kind of a long way to go. But the attitude and the conversation, the idea of people being open, there’s definitely been a big change. We’re fortunate to be in the communications field, and I certainly can’t speak for all the WorldCom partners, but. These were sort of non issues for us because of the diversity of our workforce inside most agencies, but announcing those conversations happen at a corporate level inside of brands. I heard recently Ystad on on a financial network here in the US where they said last quarter, four percent of of the quarterly calls for public companies, diversity was mentioned in some way, shape or form. And it was more than forty two percent of calls in this quarter that the corporations talked about diversity. So there’s definitely a shift in sensitivity with me, too. There’s definitely conversations that are happening around diversity and what people should do about it. They don’t know what they should do about it yet, but they’re open to the idea. And I think it goes beyond conversation. I think it’s like we’re ready for change. They just don’t know what to do yet. And I think that’s what’s going to take a lot of conversations to get to a point where. Those changes can occur, some of them organically, some of them through process, some of them through maybe law, but it will be a long time. But I think for the first time it feels different, like we’ve been in this situation before in the past. And it kind of just. Went away after a short period of time and we sort of slid back into old habits. I don’t feel this feels different. I don’t feel like that’s going to be the case this time.

[00:26:55] And I completely agree with everything that has been said. I will say I think one of the reasons why it does feel different, Roger, is the emergence and the sustainability of the activist consumer that is out there. GenZE is ushering in a complete change. And it’s not sitting idly by and it is demanding change. And I think some brands were and companies and clients were kind of stunned by the need to for them to act and then not knowing how to act. And we found a lot of clients that, you know, maybe wanted to say something but didn’t have something appropriate to say. And so we found ways to be an ally and move over and allow voices to be heard. And I think that, you know, I think what is unprecedented about this time of social justice is that the voices are being heard. And I think one of the reasons why, you know, Roger, to your point of why things maybe go away in previous instances like this is that I don’t think that people really stepped out of the way for the voices to be heard in the past. And it causes a tremendous amount of volume and appropriate conversations that are being had about this. And I agree with you. I hope they stick for a very long time.

[00:28:26] But talking of voices, and it would be remiss of me to have you on this show and not ask about the upcoming U.S. election and obviously scrapping global headlines as the Democratic National Convention last week by comparison House announcement, as well as the postal votes and situation and controversy. How is that impacting the current media agenda in the US and how are you overcoming that?

[00:28:56] So, in a word, had dominance, there is absolutely no way to avoid the dominant nature of the election news cycle. It has been dominating for months and maybe even years, depending upon what circle you ask. And it’s probably going to continue past November 3rd, which is also, you know, we’ve had times in before where elections weren’t necessarily settled on Election Day. And so will the cycle continue past November 3rd? And how long does it continue? There is a twist and turn daily. I tweet by news. Headline by. It’s just an overall upheaval so that it’s thrown the media landscape, which was already in covered up people, just an entire another layer on top of that. So how can brands and companies communicate? And this is a very delicate scenario, finding opportunities again to be helpful, provide analysis, understand the nuances of the twists and turns, each twist and turn to the new news cycle in and of itself. And so by the time maybe a brand decides to communicate on that particular twist, it’s possible that the twist has already turned. So it’s a very delicate balancing act in terms of being a PR and communications professional and picking your moment as to advise clients to engage or not engage.

[00:30:56] I tell you, this shows is absolutely brilliant because I just found out there was an election. I had no idea.

[00:31:04] It’s got to be helpful. We like to be helpful.

[00:31:07] Thank goodness for our friends in the U.K. it’s Stephane’s, right? It does dominate the news cycle. And it is a delicate balance on every time the topic shifts, kind of politically, there needs to be kind of an adjustment and sometimes that can be on a daily basis. It’s a very fine line for brands to walk where they can weigh in on an issue without necessarily taking a side. They could be on the side of what they believe is the right thing for that issue, but they can’t do it in such a way. A lot of brands can’t do it in such a way that says I’m for one candidate or Azure for the other or against this candidate. For this reason, they have to be true to who they are. They have to stick to their core values and they have to have the kind of messaging that allows them to navigate those issues through those core values. If you can do that, then you’ve got a brand that can really try to find a way to get a little bit of their own voice inside that landscape.

[00:32:13] Yeah, I think you have to pay attention and be ready to pivot, because this is going to go all all different directions over these next couple of months. And I think I think Stefán is right. I think this could be a very elongated process as well. So, you know, a lot of the same principles apply that we’ve we’ve been applying over the last couple of months. It’s just been very agile, being flexible and in our plans and, you know, paying attention to those new trends and taking advantage of those news windows as as you can. But that’s going to require a lot of flexibility and a lot of patience through this time.

[00:32:55] Absolutely. I’m just aware of everyone’s time for the show, but a little cheeky question at the end. So given all of that, what are your predictions for the rest of twenty twenty for the USA?

[00:33:08] Yeah, well, I think we summed it up. I mean, it’s going to be a wild ride, there’s no doubt about that. I think we’re going to be cloaked in uncertainty for months to come. And and again, we’re just going to have to keep our heads on a swivel and do our best to to be those straw councillors for our clients, to do our best to help them kind of see what’s coming around the corner and get them into position to succeed to these times, because we’re we’re going to face a lot of uncertainty here, probably at least through at least the first quarter of twenty twenty one.

[00:33:47] So I don’t have any election predictions, but I will tell you, though, that companies are going to need to be ready for continued turbulence and shock to the system. And as communicators and agencies and clients, our programmes are not going to have to be set in stone. They’re going to have to be adaptable and looking for opportunities where they can create the most value for that particular company at that particular time.

[00:34:17] I think that is actually part of I think you’re both right. I think that’s part of a larger system that needs to be in place. And that system is going to be how how do you structure your communications in your brand for this kind of turbulence for the foreseeable future? I don’t think it’s just till the end of the year. Even if we have a vaccine tomorrow, we’ve got seven billion people on the planet. You can make one or two billion vaccines per year. Everyone needs two or three doses. This is going to be a problem that will live with us for years. And the ability to change your organisation to pivot is both Keith and Steffon said at a moment’s notice. That’s that’s what 20, 20 needs to be about. It needs to be about planning and preparing yourself for the next several years, not just for the next six months.

[00:35:03] Absolutely. Well, I’m sure that the eyes of the world will continue to be on the US economically, socially, politically for the remainder of this year and certainly beyond. And I think that’s what’s come across loud and clear, is that agility, innovation, communication and empathy seem to be the name of the game and not just in the US. I think that’s due to global messaging and for all regions. I’m sure that we will have the pleasure of speaking to you all again in the coming months. And on that note, all that remains is for me to say. Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s show. I’m sure the FDA really find it interesting and.

[00:35:44] For us for now. Don’t forget that this and all previous episodes of Kaizo Live are available on the Kaizo website and we will see you here next week. Thank you.