How a business and brand reacted to the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic will play a major role in how it is able to perform in future – was it agile and adaptable enough to ride the crisis? For creative and digital agencies, the response had to come from two fronts. Agencies had to get their own houses in order while at the same time ensuring their clients could react quickly and appropriately to a sudden change in business practice. Martin Carmody, Managing Director of Cygnus, a White Leopard Company, in Milton Keynes gives us his take on the past few months – and about pressing ‘a big fat reset button’.
How did the imposition of lockdown affect Cygnus?
Fortunately, we were in a good position to adapt at quite a pace. We were able to implement all of our systems and processes remotely and work from the cloud to get the team set up and comfortable working from home. To be honest, as part of our culture we’ve always tried to encourage working remotely, some people think they need to be at their desks, but that’s not always true. There’s something to be said for getting out of the office, absorbing inspiration, meeting people, building relationships and adding valuable thinking time to the day, and what COVID did was cement that kind of thinking.
We were in a business centre at Willen Lake and the lease had recently expired and we were fortunate that we had options, which led to a move to Bow Brickhill. The space is exciting, a rural setting that encourages creativity and collaboration. Currently, we all remain working remotely, this has given us time to create a forward thinking space to invite the team and our partners to work together when the time is right and restrictions allow.
How is that working out for the team?
When lockdown happened, we made sure everyone was comfortable working from home, and more recently we made sure the office space was ready for people to come back. Where we had to, we adopted to video calls and made it work, but our core strengths are creativity, digital, video and client services and there’s a lot in there that requires interaction, either within the team or with our client partners.
Bringing the team together is so important to us, as is keeping communication lines fully open. Discovery, planning and briefing is obviously important, along with the right team and individuals to have the right level of involvement within their specialist areas, and working creatively isn’t as easy when people are not together. Fortunately, we have a very professional, trusted and talented team and they get it – they made it work.
How did you respond to your client partners’ needs?
Cygnus works with client partners in a wide range of sectors and with businesses of all shapes and sizes – IT, food and beverage, education, automotive – each sector had their own challenges but we were ready to listen and understand them.
So, for instance, we work with the Open University and remote learning is obviously something that doesn’t stop, especially now. Although we had to work on and adjust communication lines and perhaps tweak a tone of voice, we worked closely with their team to deliver creative and digital assets to retain their progressive marketing.
Charities were hard hit and we work side-by-side with the Milton Keynes Hospital Charity – it was important to keep their profile in the public eye when fundraising and donations are so important. Working on the ‘Be Seen in Green’ campaign was very different from a normal year of events. We certainly took a digital first approach to retain the awareness and outreach.
Another example is VW Group, whose dealerships closed overnight but then when they reopened there was a lot of pent-up sales opportunities and they had to be in a position to respond.
Others found that there was a demand for their service or product, but there were supply chain or retail outlet issues. AutoGlym, a car care brand, for instance, pivoted to progress further ecommerce solutions as the high streets struggled with footfall.
Our one clear objective was to listen to each client partners’ individual needs and situations to understand how we could support them in moving their business forward. We were able to suggest other possibilities and solutions to allow them to stand out, be seen and be heard. We were also able to lean on things we were already doing for other client partners to reposition their brand and transform their marketing.
That can’t have been easy, what lessons have you learned?
I think the good thing was that we got to understand our client partners a little bit more. We have a talented team and because we are all creative we are solution driven. Whatever we face, we can react to. Whether it was brand awareness, planning digital outreach or driving footfall to a website, we were able to listen, develop and deploy.
What was also refreshing was how businesses took time to step back and listen to what others were saying. Other agencies and client partners in other businesses in the MK community seemed to spend a little more time giving something back and helping each other out. If we could offer one another advice and experience on how to get through all this, we did.
This is something I’ve always been keen to do, however the pandemic has led me to having conversations I wouldn’t otherwise have had.
What do you see when you look to the future?
One of the core things is opportunities. While we are all currently fighting our own fires, we also have to remember that we will come out of this and we need to be in a position to move forward as a brand and business, ready to win new business and evolve as we emerge.
I’m also concerned about the potential waste of talent within the area. We host regular thought leadership events, called CURIOUS, which involve industry leading speakers joining us in a conversation to add marketing and technology insight and value to our students and business community. Our next event, in December, will be entitled ‘A Changing Landscape’ and we want to be at the heart of those conversations and changes.
For young people it’s tough get opportunities for internships and work experience. It’s important that we don’t lose sight of that.
We have partnered with Milton Keynes College for the past four years on the Horizion initiative, providing a pool of enthusiastic local students with the chance to take on a brief, walk through the creative process and deliver a tangible piece of course work that forms part of their overall course delivery.
Along with the new university on the MK horizon, we need to make sure we help inform and support to develop the very best talent. Young, raw, talent is obviously the future and we all need ensure the opportunities are available for them to shine.
Discover more about Cygnus at www.cygnus.co.uk or call 01908 067999