What does thought leadership look like in the age of Covid-19? Has the pandemic changed everything?
Áine: I think the big change for us has been in agility: really ramping up our ability to talk about the big issues that clients are having to deal with – from the most mundane to the most strategic – and then quickly identifying the ‘so what?’
One of the things that’s important is to be able to cut through the noise. In times of crisis audiences want relevant, practical guidance – and they need it fast. So organisations need to get to the point really quickly, so clients can read it and say, “This is of interest to me. This will help me.” Then they will engage more with the content, and dive into it. So it’s about agility, timing, focusing on the key issues and getting straight to the point.
How do you stay relevant?
Áine: I think this is where the relationship between sales and marketing comes to the fore. The consultants are the ones talking to the clients, so we need to ask them about those conversations. That collaboration helps us to tailor our content, which is important because companies are not going through the same things at the same time. Some of them may have moved quickly on furloughing; others might still be making decisions about business continuity.
And of course we don’t want to be creating content for content’s sake. So we need to get close to our clients’ issues, which again is a reason for marketing and sales to work together: sales might tell marketing, for example, “My clients are worried about the furloughs and the job retention scheme.”
Sometimes the simplest things can be overwhelming in a crisis, and we’ve got the expertise: we can help them answer questions. The more we keep that conversation going, the more we can make sure our content and insights are useful to our clients. And I think that’s the crucial difference at the moment: it’s not just interesting content – it’s useful.
So you’re changing the content itself as a result of the pandemic?
Áine: We’ve hosted a weekly Covid-19 webinar panel across all our businesses to help people look at the crisis from an investment perspective, from an economics perspective, from a talent perspective, from an employee benefits perspective. It’s a holistic approach that produces insights that are practical and implementable. And as this is a webinar as opposed to a one-dimensional report people can ask questions and get instant answers.
It’s about being authentic, staying close to our clients, understanding their issues and challenges and then sharing insights that will be helpful and most importantly, implementable. It’s less about the lofty, cerebral pieces of thought leadership. There will be a place for those eventually – there always is, because people like to think about what’s coming in three to five years. But right now it’s all about the pieces that will help people today and in the next two, three, four, five months.
You mentioned timing. Are you being more careful about what you put out, and when?
Áine: We’re tailoring it to clients by sharing content that’s relevant to them at that time – instead of much broader content that will affect them, but we don’t know when. It goes back to the usability. And we’re able to do that because the consultants are having the conversations and know that the timing is right. Again, it’s about staying close to clients and understanding what can help them at any given time.
It may feel counterintuitive at the moment, but it’s dangerous to send out a lot of content just to stay visible. A few smaller outreaches will be more effective as long as they’re targeted. In a collaborative organisation where the marketing function is seen as an extension of the business and not an adjunct, you can work with your consultants to get the content and timing right.
But it’s also important to recognise that there are different responses and return phases, and each client will be at a different stage. So we make content available, but we use very clear signposting: if you’re crisis mode, then this is what’s relevant to you. If you can get your head above the water and take a breath, here’s what you need to do. And then if you have survived and can start looking ahead, this is what you should think about. Make it easy for them.
Finally, has there been a change since Covid-19 hit that you hope will endure as the pandemic recedes?
Áine: We’ve all been invited into everyone’s home. We see family members, cats and dogs – it’s a leveller. And when people ask how you are, they actually mean it. That’s the bit I hope we don’t lose: asking “How are you?” and getting an honest response.
Áine Bryn was speaking at our recent Thought Leadership Network webinar