• Rob Hedges, Red Sprite

Coronavirus: Keep an eye on the long game…

Updated: Mar 18, 2020

The spread of Covid-19 has taken many by surprise, but it is essential to start preparing for what comes after

Like a fisherman on the rocks cut off by the incoming tide, there are few governments, companies or institutions that were not surprised by the wave of the coronavirus pandemic that has swept around the globe.

Preparedness of infrastructure and contingency planning is now being tested as few could have expected even just a few weeks ago. As response plans are found to be lacking in light of the extraordinary circumstances, the focus of entire organisations – from CEO down – narrows to a single point: getting through today with as little impact on staff, or interruption to operations and services, as possible.

This is understandable. As societies, we are facing a barely known viral enemy, one that brings with it an epidemic union with confusion and fear. The result is, for many, an unprecedented breakdown of normality. As businesses, we either face frayed supply chains as demand skyrockets, or a market that is teetering on the edge as customers vanish overnight. Common to all is the problem of staff health and availability.

So no, it is not surprising that the spotlight of attention is concentrated to a laser beam just to get through the next few days and weeks. However, although it would be hard to allocate blame for an organisation not being properly prepared for the rise of Covid-19, it may well be more damaging – and harder to forgive – to not prepare for what comes next.

There is a risk that if all energy is spent on standing still the result is you might actually be moving backwards.

If you put all your projects on hold, freeze innovation and business development, can you guarantee that others in your market are doing the same? The chances are they won’t be –  existing competitors may well come out of this crisis ahead, while disruptors seize ground that should have been yours.

Fundamental societal shifts aside, the landscape in which we do business – or even how we do business – will have gone through some degree of upheaval. Relationships with staff and suppliers will either have been reinforced or weakened as a result of (for example) decisions taken and communications made over this period. However, perhaps more profoundly and less controllably, the behaviour and habits of customers may change forever.

Take publishing as an example…

People’s thirst for news has grown in tandem with the spread of the virus. News outlets are meeting this need by launching podcasts and newsletters, appointing Covid-19 editors and some of those with paywalls are making coronavirus-related stories free to all. No doubt sales of the ink-on-paper version will also be bolstered. All so far, so rosy.

But as the pattern we have seen across the world repeats itself, and the virus takes hold, lockdown is likely to follow.

With the daily paper purchase no longer a priority for those critical moments spent in a store, circulation can only go one way. Coupled with the spasms being endured by advertising revenues, profit from the print edition is going to be squeezed even further. Substitutional – and incremental – digital traffic brought about by idle hands at home may well be the hope to come from this. However, more time online may well lead to more experimentation with other sources and new relationships being forged. Perhaps the ones to really benefit here will be those premium sites who have lowered the barrier for this most-sought content, leading a transient sampling to develop into a more transactional relationship.

If those habits – the ones so heavily relied upon by publishers – are compelled to be broken by circumstance, what planning is being done now to mitigate the impact of this? What enticements are being readied to reinstate the relationship at the first opportunity, or what completely fresh revenue-based relationships are being examined, weighed-up, to ensure the hole in the bottom line is quickly filled?

Publishing will not be – is not – alone in knowing that a paradigm shift is likely.

The live events business will recover – the experience it offers will always attract customers. But the fragility of that central pillar, and the dependency on it, will need to be addressed. The world of retail will need to accelerate its evolution and its understanding of exactly what purpose a bricks-and-mortar presence serves. While in the airline industry – with already one victim at the time of writing – some bold answers will be needed to some difficult questions that are already being asked. These are just examples – every area of industry can foresee the range of possible changes that will come.

Knowing that a change is likely means that it is imperative to start doing something about it. To do nothing – in an Eeyore-style shrugging of shoulders and capitulation – would be unforgivable.

In fact, there may be no better time than now to plan for tomorrow. While a core team concentrates on day-to-day operations and comms, keep others engaged and invested by channeling their energies into on-going projects, or thinking about the range of post-crisis problems, solutions and opportunities you business might be presented with. Who knows, perhaps this is the most valuable way to spend those isolated hours. Such empowerment will not only ease their fear during this time, it will also develop the culture and capabilities of your organisation for the the long term.

Yes, your world might be very different in a few weeks but your overarching vision for success is unlikely to change in the slightest. What you may require is an adjusted set of strategies to enable you to achieve it – if you start working through these now, that new world will be one ripe with opportunity.

Red Sprite – See the challenge | Seize the opportunity

#covid19 #coronavirus #resilience #strategy #vision