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One of our last blog posts of 2019 was about making a plan for 2020!
Well the first couple of months were certainly going to plan then BOOM! March came and along with it a crazy bat flu pandemic that completely shut the world down and caused so many unfortunate events and resulted in an unprecedented UK lockdown.
Coronavirus was something that very few of us had heard of at the beginning of the year, Coronaviruses are named for the distinctive appearance of their spikes; when seen under a powerful microscope, the spikes look like a crown (corona is the Latin for ‘crown’) although there is certainly nothing regal about what happened next!
Businesses were suddenly having to close indefinitely, staff were asked to work from home and there were queues at supermarkets for, of all things loo roll and pasta! SME’s account for three fifths of the employment and around half of all turnover in the UK private sector* so this pandemic was major news, not just in the UK but globally.
Here at VIA we were also impacted by the pandemic and our story during that crazy period is probably no different to the thousands of small businesses around the UK.
We started getting an inkling that things were starting to get a little crazy around the beginning of March when we couldn’t order something as trivial as hand wash for our office from our usual stationery suppliers, so a hunt round town resulted in the purchase of hand wash soaps after shops were limiting sales to two per customer.
A week after pubs, bars, salons, gyms and restaurants were told to close! Prime Minister Boris Johnson, issued one of his regular daily Coronavirus TV messages by announcing a UK wide lockdown on 23.3.2020, We are all aware of the domestic issues this caused particularly with not being able to see close family but from a business perspective it resulted in one of the most surreal periods of time I’d ever witnessed since first setting up the agency in 2003.
Roads were empty, nobody was out and about, you couldn’t leave your house other than for essential shopping and some basic exercise, certainly no trips to Redcar were had. I had a walk to the bank in town, which had me literally humming a Specials classic from my youth, “…this town, is coming like a ghost town!”
To protect and safeguard people, the government advised that staff work from home, furloughing was a term many had never heard of yet it became one of the most widely used phrases ever during this period. Soon after we experienced an almost immediate slow down of new enquiries and some already planned projects were put on hold by clients, this was despite our communication channels, phones, emails, website and even our office remaining open.
We also faced up to the harsh realities of the early downturn in business by undertaking increased financial planning, looking at our cashflow and expenditure forecast meant we could navigate obstacles well during this tricky period.
Thankfully this didn’t last long but did give us an insight into what things could be like if there were suddenly no clients, ‘Without clients we are nothing’ is one of our agency’s core values, never was it more resonant! This was a bizarre and confidence rattling experience.
After working from home in the early days of VIA I knew how difficult it could be so I personally continued to come into the studio, to answer phones and enquiries. We had some significant web and design projects that were started pre-lockdown so we, along with the entire business community, utilised Zoom for our agency video catchups, to discuss projects, productivity and generally keeping in the loop with each other, we also use Slack for specific project messaging on a daily basis.
New customer meetings were held over Zoom, we even held a shortlisting video meeting for a new website tender along with regular productivity meetings with clients. The landscape had changed and we were adapting to it as best we could.
However it was during these lockdown months that we realised that what we were doing as an agency did hold some added value to our clients other than the usual marketing and web services we provide. In fact we rallied round and looked at what safety solutions we could produce that would make our own and our clients businesses safer to their prospective customers and staff when the lockdown ended.
This is where our sister print company stepped up, the range of printed safety products that we could offer to clients helped us win significant projects at a time when business around the region was very hard to come by. With clients being wary of spending on marketing it meant we had to think outside the box to develop new commercial opportunities. Being responsive with these safety products and having the ability to move quickly with bespoke creative solutions allowed us to find and win new business.
With the lockdown gradually being wound down towards the end of June and the number of Covid-19 cases dropping, we noticed an upturn in business as our clients and prospects started getting ready for the opening of pubs, shops, salons and restaurants from the 4th July, ironically it was a Saturday, what a day to get back down the pub!
Subsequently things have changed, the landscape is different, social distancing is the new normal, we can't shake hands anymore but we can fist bump! More importantly we can bring clients and staff back to our offices with measures in place to protect everyone so they can work in the studio safely, hand sanitiser and hand wash is now readily available again after the early days of stockpiling.
Whilst there are undoubtedly further issues to be encountered by the new social distancing rules (at the time of writing this blog post the Rule of 6 Law came into operation with tighter lockdown restrictions in parts of the North East) we understand the need to engage with clients, to share how the creative process can work for their business and how this process does need an emotive, human element to get the best solution.
Luckily our designers are here to help address any concerns for our clients, to identify solutions that will help them get through the issues caused by Covid 19 and to enable them to keep doing business.
At the time of writing this blog post (9.10.2020) Covid-19 cases were on the rise, primarily due to increased testing, the Rule of 6 Law came into operation and then another local lockdown was put in place in Middlesbrough with pubs and restaurants closing at 10pm and no one from different households able to mix outside or in different homes. Challenging times indeed for many people and businesses but there are signs of optimism with many businesses already planning to make more of an impact in 2021.
If your business has been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic and you are interested in seeing how we’ve provided creative marketing solutions to help other clients get through issues please drop us a line.