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Brand Aid: How Democracy Guided Some of Britain’s Biggest Brands Through The Pandemic

Like any strategic partner worth their salt, at Democracy we pride ourselves on the planning we work on with clients to ensure the success of their PR and social activities.

But what happens when all those carefully thought out plans are shredded in an instant? As we made our way through March and into April 2020, in every business in the land, millions of plans were being ripped up as we all adjusted to the new reality of living with Covid-19.

 

Navigating a new marketing landscape

Lockdown, social distancing, the closure of the retail and leisure sectors, the complexity of working from home or in the case of tradespeople in other people’s homes – all of these have contributed to companies large and small wiping the slate on their plans for the year.

This is a crisis bigger than any of us have experienced. Typically in a crisis, brands tend to say nothing at all – or say far too much. However, in the case of Covid-19, the tone has been different and much more supportive. In a word, it’s been ‘human’. Just think of the number of emails you’ve had from brands you once bought something from in 1997, checking in to see if you are ‘keeping safe in these unprecedented times’.

Navigating a public health and economic crisis on behalf of our clients isn’t something there is a guidebook for and success, where we’ve achieved it, has been down to the emotional intelligence of our decision making and our agility as a communications team.

With clients in the automotive, DIY, heating, food and drink and tourism sectors, there was no one size fits all solution that we could reach for. As each business adjusted and did its best to move forward, it required a different approach to keep what they say and do relevant to their audiences and the national mood.

Underpinning everything though was the need to be understanding and empathetic to the unfolding situation that the country found itself in. The whole population on lockdown, millions unable to work or work fully, worried about their own health, their families and their income – this was no time for any kind of selling.

 

How we helped brands like Dulux communicate through Covid

In the case of a brand like Dulux, the audiences it talks to are almost as vast and varied as the colours you can paint your living room walls in. However, with no one able to buy paint, what was its role in daily life?

Working closely with the newly formed editorial board of parent company AkzoNobel, statements were drafted to keep people informed of the changing situation and new content strategies were developed and actioned quickly, that reflected what people CAN do, rather than what they can’t.

Help for homeowners: In the case of homeowners, this was looking for leftover paint in the home and embarking on small domestic projects – with visual guides and inspiration filmed by Dulux Creative Director Marianne Shillingford, painting rainbow hearts and Dulux dogs on social media.

Help for professional trade specialists: For the professional painter and decorator, the guidance was more focused and nuanced, looking at ways to work safely if necessary, pointing to government support and suggesting ways to use any period of business inactivity to improve things behind the scenes.

This kept Dulux in touch with its audiences in a relevant and meaningful way, demonstrating understanding of the bewildering situation people suddenly found themselves in.

Nuno Pena, marketing director for AkzoNobel, recognised the support from his agency team and said: “The Democracy team has been our eyes and ears in the market, keeping us in the loop with industry and competitors, going above and beyond to turn messaging/ideas around overnight, being available out of hours to support, flagging concerns and coming to the table ahead of the curve with ideas of how we can weather the storm. Each and every member of the Democracy team has been on point, every time.”

 

Adaptable strategies that reflect the tone of the nation

Also in the homes and interiors space is Tile Giant, the tile retailer with branches nationwide serving to the public and trade. As their stores closed, it became necessary to work closer and check in more often to ensure outward comms were what customers wanted to hear.

The Democracy team are in constant conversation with senior management, offering strategic advice on internal and external comms, providing updates on areas of focus for the media and discussing general state of the nation updates on public and business mood.

Content has all been adapted to reflect current and changing public outlook and working restrictions faced by the trade. On Tile Giant’s social channels, we have changed tact, focusing on projects that are doable while celebrating the work done by the trade, highlighting their success stories in our feeds.

 

How to stay present in a frozen marketplace

Boiler manufacturer ATAG had to contend with a sharp downturn in demand, allied to the difficulties of how to advise their boiler installers about the safety of working in other people’s homes.

Head of Marketing at ATAG, Simon Parkinson, says: “Democracy has been an important partner to ATAG as the Covid-19 crisis has unfolded. Working to keep us informed and providing strategic counsel on how we can best support our people and community. Ensuring we deliver key messages to our customers via press and social media and proposing tactical content to support installers’ businesses now and in the future.”

The car industry also found itself shuttered overnight as lockdown forced the closure of dealerships and took car buying off the agenda for even the most diehard petrolhead. This meant online marketplace heycar had to pivot to remain relevant and maintain communication with its audience.

Working with the team at the VW and Daimler-backed tech startup, this was achieved in two ways. For the car buyer, social comms were changed to reflect the fact car buying was not happening – instead focusing on practical guidance on what to do with your car in lockdown and stepping up the level of entertainment content provided on owned channels.

For the car trade, heycar’s network of more than 3,700 dealerships were provided with guidance in how to up their game in the digital space, nurturing customers until the time was right to buy. heycar also led the way with insight into the levels of traffic to its website in lockdown, with steep rises demonstrating a pent-up demand from the public that the rest of the industry has latched on to.

Share of voice far beyond much larger competitors has been achieved via YouTube live sessions, industry comment and relevant stories focusing on practical steps for industry professionals to take during lockdown.

Olivia Jackson, brand lead at heycar, says: “Democracy actually proactively came to us and told us to get planning for Coronavirus earlier than anyone else had mentioned it. They’re a partner we stand side by side with, and work with as an extension of our internal team. The Democracy team have been completely agile and flexible to the tough situation, and given recommendations which have stretched further than you’d expect from a traditional PR agency – whilst having rigour and strategy behind every recommendation.

“No brand ever wants to be in a crisis situation, but to have a partner who has quickly adapted and fully appreciates our business and who focuses on the safety of our team, dealers, and customers, has made it much easier than it could have been.”

 

Transforming brand propositioning in lockdown

How we enjoy ourselves has also dramatically changed over the past two months and the team has shown its quick-thinking creativity to move the Tequila Rose brand away from a drink mostly taken in bars – the classic ‘night out shot’ – to an at-home drink, demonstrating its relevance to the lockdown environment via new and engaging social content.

Social listening has meant we’ve jumped on the kind of content people stuck at home are looking for, including new and creative cocktails and even ‘boozy bakes’. This has seen almost two million impressions for Tequila Rose content in lockdown, 30 times the size of its social audience. Coverage has also been secured across regional, national and lifestyle media titles.

Closer to our Manchester home, the East Lancashire Railway, a charity and mostly volunteer-run heritage railway line, is appealing to the public to ‘pay it forward’ with bookings for future events ensuring that the doors can open again when the time is right.

The Democracy team has been close with ELR’s chairman throughout to ensure that the fundraising message is spread as far and wide as possible.

Mike Kelly, Chairman of ELR, says: “Democracy has been a huge and important asset to the ELR in its battle to overcome the Covid-19 crisis. Democracy has been a true partner supporting ELR during one of the most difficult times in the railway’s 33 year history; combining strategic consultancy, tactical media outreach and providing creative solutions to our public communications message and various appeals.

“The team is very approachable and so easy to work with. They have successfully managed to secure impressive coverage that has helped to encourage the public to donate nearly £100,000 to our fundraising campaign in eight weeks.“

While every experience has been different, the challenges of keeping on the front foot and reactive to the changing landscape have been handled superbly by our team. None of us will ever forget this period.

Now the next challenge is how we all adjust to the next stage, as lockdown is eased and ultimately we all go back to living our lives as normally as possible again. The main lesson though is that by listening, by seeking to be useful and meaningful above everything and by saying things in a human way, brands are building long-term loyalty to last way beyond this current crisis.

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