In the context of the current COVID-19 crisis, as agencies innovate and adapt to the new normal, Ashish Bhasin CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network APAC and Chairman India says that this is the time for the industry to work together. He also explains why these are dark days for the M&E sector, and why industry leaders must work towards virtual proximity with their teams
Tough days ahead for the industry
It is fair to say the situation is very bad on the business front. Some businesses are so dramatically affected that their revenues are down to near zero, like the events companies, agencies servicing airlines, hotels and hospitality. I don’t know how long this will last but it is not something that will go away in a hurry. At the moment, the country is under lockdown for almost a month. At some stage, the infection outbreak will come under control – maybe it will take a couple of months or even longer. No one knows.
Either way, the impact on the economy will be long lasting. Production has come to a complete halt, companies have shut factories and labourers have returned to their villages. When you have a scenario like this, whenever people get back to their offices and workplaces that will not be the end of the problem. It’s going to take a while for companies to recover and there will be a definite slowdown in India’s as well as the global economy. Unfortunately, advertising is one of the easiest expenses for companies to cut at such times.
Everyone is conserving cash. It is becoming difficult for companies to pay salaries, vendors, etc. Therefore, I am afraid that there are dark clouds looming over the advertising industry for the foreseeable future. This is not going to be a great year.
Now is not the time to compete
The first thing we wanted to do was ensure health and safety for our staff. So we were a little more proactive in starting work from home even before it was mandated. Suddenly, however, you have 3,500 – 4,000 people working from home. The infrastructure has to keep pace, so the unsung heroes in our organisation at this time have been our IT guys.
They have ensured that the WFH transition has happened smoothly, which is not an easy task when you have to manage that for over 3,500 people who are working remotely. There are certain best practices which we have also shared universally, so everyone in the industry can benefit from them. Now is not the time to compete. Rather it is time for everyone to cooperate and work together. This crisis affects all of us.
These best practices and ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ are learnings from other markets who have been ahead of the curve and have faced this crisis before us, such as China and South Korea.
Need for virtual proximity has never been greater
The social distancing mandate requires companies to work towards achieving virtual proximity. You need to communicate more, not less – that is something I keep telling all my leaders. There is a lot of anxiety in people’s minds at the moment. Also when you’re working in an office, you don’t only have work-related conversations.
People take coffee breaks, smoke breaks and lunch breaks. There is a lot of social interaction, which can still be maintained by staying connected with your teams. I am on the phone from early in the morning till late hours in the night these days because people need to reach out to you in such times.
In India particularly, the liquidity cycle is getting severely impacted. Companies are struggling to pay vendors and employees. So obviously there is anxiety in people’s minds. Therefore, it is even more essential for leaders to stay in touch with their teams during these times of uncertainty.