Navigating the Coronavirus crisis: Thoughts from five Perth industry leaders

Navigating the Coronavirus crisis: Thoughts from five Perth industry leaders

What lessons for our industry can be learned from this unprecedented situation that the world is in? Bonfire Head of Marketing, Rene LeMerle, asked five local agency leaders for their thoughts.


The impact of COVID-19 Coronavirus is ever present. We’re all grappling with its effects on health, workplaces, society and our businesses. Its rapid onset has forced many of us on to the back foot. Strategic priorities have shifted. Forecasts are being downgraded. Bullish outlooks are being replaced with caution and conservatism.

Everyone’s looking for ways to protect the health and safety of staff, clients and families, whilst also ensuring the sustainability of business over the next 6 – 12 months. We reached out to some Perth’s leading agency heads, to see how they’re tackling the coronavirus situation, and for some strategy and marketing recommendations during such a crisis. Here’s what they had to say.

Gavin Bain – CEO, Meerkats

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but the advertising industry can occasionally have a rather inflated sense of its own importance in people’s lives. After all, as the people were furiously tearing loo paper from the shelves last week, it’s very unlikely that any of them were stopping to admire the perfect kerning of the logo or the fantastic innovations in 6-ply technology promised in the body copy.

But at the same time, brands can often underestimate the role they play in the day-to-day interactions people have online and in person. A strong brand voice and a compelling true purpose can deliver exponential value to a business in times of cultural and community upheaval – particularly when they are linked to a pragmatic benefit to the customer.

To return to toilet paper, it’s no surprise that ‘Who Gives A Crap’ benefitted immensely from the panic due to: a) a clear, practical and compelling business proposition, b) a fun and reassuring brand tone (with a strong social conscience baked in), and c) a constant presence on social media (owned), word of mouth referrals (earned) and direct digital marketing (paid).

This is the value of creating robust businesses and brands that are built on a bedrock of purpose, combined with charming and accessible creative that adds something to people’s lives. It’s often said that a great brand is forged in the fires of market depression, downturns and chaos – not business as usual.

Now is exactly the right time to clarify what exactly makes your brand something special, something to celebrate, and something to earn the front-of-mind awareness of a community largely trapped in their homes staring at screens. In many ways it’s a marketers’ paradise – a worldwide captive audience who are largely preoccupied with the same topic, all ready to hear something positive and inspiring from the brands they love.

So give it to them. This is the best time in recent history to show society exactly what you have to say in your business.

And if you need some quick advice to help you out with this, we’re always happy to help.

Clay Cook – CEO, Bonfire

These are unprecedented times. A multigenerational “once in a lifetime” crisis. And it’s understandably left many people and businesses in a panic.

We, like most businesses, have put the health and welfare our staff, and the greater Bonfire community, at the forefront of our activities. We need to work together to stem the spread of the virus. We rapidly rolled out our relevant risk management program and deployed remote work and client management procedures. It has ensured we’ve been able to keep “business as close to usual” for our clients, while protecting everyone. We have a way to go before things get better.

And the economic impact of coronavirus will linger on for years to come. So we’re working with our clients and partners to help insure their sustainable through these times.

As people shift to remote working arrangements, and quarantine/self-isolation becomes more prevalent, online will be even more critical for businesses. It’s really important that they maintain a strong digital presence.

But it’s far from “Marketing as usual”. Brands need to be sensitive to the times with their messaging and approach. People don’t want to be “sold” to at the moment. But people do still need products and services.

The businesses that will survive, are adapting and innovating. Trimming “fat”, not “muscle”.

Callum Mackenzie – Managing Director, Rare

As with most businesses, our priority in these unusual times is the health and welfare of our staff and their families, our clients and suppliers, and the continuation of normal services; but additionally as a business and as an industry we must adopt a pragmatic, calm and we believe optimistic view of the future.

In doing so at Rare, it positions us with the right mindset to work with our clients to providing support, advice and direction today and in the future.

Government and economic reports suggest that the worst months of infection are expected to be June, easing by September and all done be December. This will likely create an economic recession in the first quarter of FY21 (July to September – a 1 in 100 year economic event) but the Australian Government is well placed to manage it much better than any disaster or economic fallout in the past.

So even though we’re not at the bottom quite yet, we are optimistic that the worst effects of the Covid-19 crisis will be over relatively soon and we will be able to go back to our lives with some kind of normality.

Human beings are incredibly resilient – we have faced many crises before and come out stronger – and this one is no different, particularly at a time when our level of development and medical knowledge is the highest it has ever been in human history.

With that backdrop, our industry must accept the challenge thrown at it and adapt to the changing environment. Our staff will have individual concerns and situations that we will support and our clients will be presented with different challenges and real opportunities. We must join forces with them to hunt for the right resolution and direction and help deliver personal, social and business results that inspire confidence.

Deepening trust and engaging brands with their audiences and positively impacting behaviour. Having personally lived and worked through the Gulf War in Saudi Arabia, I have seen the impact that smart communications and advertising can achieve in troubled times – it will pay dividends through the recovery period and even strengthen the position of brands in the aftermath.

So let’s all wash our hands, stay positive, be good humans and focus on the brighter months ahead.

Rare is well and truly open for business and ready to work our wonder for anyone looking for an injection of positivity.

Paul Coghlan – Chief Creative Officer, Marketforce

What an interesting time we’re living and operating in. Our advice to our client partners, as well as businesses and brands more broadly, is centred around six particular areas.

Calm: People need a calm, steady hand during chaotic times. Brands should provide reassurance but be honest about how the crisis is affecting them.

Clarity: Provide clarity around expectations and what the organisation is doing to mitigate the effects of the crisis.

Certainty: Give them as much certainty as you can. Keep up with the government guidelines. Stick to the facts. Tell them what you are doing to fix problems.

Communication: Talk to your audience 1:1 as much as possible, talk in the first-person using company spokespeople. Support direct channels like EDM, Video & Social with TV, digital and print.

Community: Demonstrate what you are doing for the community, especially those at increased risk during the crisis.

Consistency: Don’t stop, continual communication is critical. Provide regular updates. The situation will change rapidly so you need to be ready to adapt and respond.

Mark Treasure – State Sales Director, oOh!media

While Covid-19 and the resulting economic concerns have seen some brands relook at their marketing approach, they still should be focusing on building and maintaining their presence as long as it is sensitive and aware of how consumers are affected.

Coca-Cola is a great example of how you can build brand while recognising the social and economic attitudes. In the great depression, by maintaining a presence and reflecting community sentiment, they were able to double sales and retain market share when the economy rebounded.

At oOh! one of our approaches during this time is to work with our customers to reflect their brand in customer-led community service messaging across our Out of Home medium.