9 months in, and we found ourselves doing things the way it was never thought possible before Covid. This changed our lens on what we do and how we do it.

Sudeep Chatterjee is Head of Marketing at Associated British Foods in their SEADM region, based in Myanmar. He is a South East Asian marketing specialist, with International GM roles before moving to ABF.

https://www.digitalstrategyconsulting.com/digital-intelligence/transformation/lessons-of-lockdown/9 months in, and we found ourselves doing things the way it was never thought possible before Covid. This changed our lens on what we do and how we do it.

In Myanmar, my team learnt adaptability, flexibility and “never to say something’s impossible”. In January 2020 we had our yearly calendars planned just like normal, then the pandemic hit and made us rethink everything.

We put our plans back on the shelf, and the team started working together totally differently. Out went composing long agency briefs and that longer gestation period for agency deliverables. In came working together as a cohesive team in short sprints. It threw new challenges to each of us – in marketing we had to come up with the new campaign ideas based on an audience living in a Covid world.

We wore agency hats and created briefs. We even came up with topline creative ideas we handed over to agency partners for quicker processing and final deliverable. We worked through video calls. We stretch ourselves late into the evenings. Looking back, those initial days of lockdown were painful. Grappling to adjust to the new norm. “Immunity” and “safety” became buzzwords. During lockdowns in Myanmar not more than 8 to 10 people were allowed to be together outside, so even regular creative filming norms couldn’t be maintained. We learnt new skills and applied them through live streaming over video calls – a completely new experience. We came up with campaigns on the theme of health as the definition of “healthy” changed.

The sales team had to switch to work from home. Orders were taken by phone and only delivery team had to be courageous, out in the market even during the lockdowns.

When things became slightly relaxed, we learnt the new term “team segregation” and we started working with fewer people on the ground. It was a terrifying but innovative experience – “Terrinovative” has been my personal buzzword.

Senior management understood that the motivation was tough with prolonged working from home, and there’s a risk of the mundane and demoralizing. We tackled that head-on, ensuring everyday we saw the faces in video calls, cameras always switched on. We pranked around with the videos and that helped keep things lighter, made us closer personally – it was different from when we worked in the office. We even arranged for free dinners for colleagues and their families with online deliveries and sharing pictures as a part of family general wellbeing. We kept the energy levels up and helped the teams work cohesively and stretch themselves. They went beyond expectations. They achieved the unthinkable. Shaping the mindset was essential. All the projects were changed and by using new approaches, we got most of them executed rolled-out on time and successfully. Commercially we even grew substantially in this period.

A great learning has been that there are many regular travels we do unnecessarily, wasting time and natural resources So much more will be done online from now on.

Associated British Foods’ regional marketing leader on agency thinking, new ways of working, ‘terrinovative’ thinking, and maintaining speed of planning and execution.

I’d sum up my lessons from lockdown in a simple descriptor of Covid from our business point of view…

  • Calm: Be calm and cool and try to assess the situation
  • Ownership: Take ownership to organize thoughts, information, and people – speak frequently & motivate,
  • Velocity: Speed is the most critical part; don’t wait for instructions
  • Invigorate: Make the team feel strong, energetic, positive and involved in the work – be sensitive
  • Dive: Dive into it – make the plan, execute it, don’t wait

Long after the pandemic has passed, I hope we’ll still be true to those 5 principles

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