How did the first lockdown and subsequent travel restrictions affect global projects and client relationships?
Ours is an industry that has always evangelised being together in person, whether that’s pitches, workshops, presentations… celebrations! We have always taken any opportunity to be present in the same room as our clients, convinced this is the best way that we can build bonds and strong, lasting partnerships.
And then BOOM. COVID-19 happened. We went into lockdown. Not only did we not see clients in person, we couldn’t see each other in person.
At the start of the year we embarked on a global brand refresh project for AMC Networks International. We had clients in New York, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Budapest and London. It was always going to be a conference call-led project, but then we all got excited at the beginning of March when we were planning to host a big face-to-face design workshop in Madrid to coincide with the Promax Europe conference.
Within a week those plans were scrapped, we all got sent home and began to adjust to screen life. We started fumbling around with Zoom and Teams and panicking about how we were going to make an online workshop work. What could we do to make it interactive, how could we encourage our clients to give their opinion freely, how could we make it fun?!
In the end, it was a success, but in part because we had to accept that we couldn’t transfer the tactility of being in person and we had to make the format work to meet our main objective – getting design elements signed off.
We were conscious that it didn’t turn into a four-hour presentation into a silent void, so it was peppered with breakout rooms and tasks, pauses to go back to the gallery, encouragement to use the chat function and stringent timekeeping. Moderation was also key: playing back what was said and keeping up the tempo. And finally, as workshops need decisions, we had to accept that trying to make everyone happy wouldn’t lead to the best design work. So pointing out the elephants in the room and addressing them head on was at times a little uncomfortable but, ultimately, necessary.
What has been a bit of a revelation since, is that the longer the lockdown and travel restrictions have gone on, the stronger our bonds and relationships with our international clients have become. Rather than having faceless conference calls from office to office, we have been having regular video calls more frequently. Seeing clients’ faces more often and using each other’s backdrops as stimulus for conversations – seeing what they like to eat, drink, read, what musical instrument they play, etc – has revealed far more than a two-minute chat would before a presentation.
While there’s no denying that there isn’t anything quite like being together in person, we have worked on projects feeling satisfied that we have still been able to create strong client partnerships.
Fran Chang, Senior Account Director