Advertising globally is set to suffer a decline in revenue as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. A shrinking pie means that brands will need to offer consumers a clear value proposition. Despite the constrained environment they need to continue to invest in advertising and marketing. Past experience has shown that those businesses which continue to advertise and keep their brand alive during a crisis tend to reap the reward long term. What is critical, however, is to be clear about what makes your brand unique and to ensure that your advertising is authentic.

These were the overarching take-outs of a recent digital conversation with the AdFocus 2019 Awards Partnership of the Year winners, M&C Saatchi Abel and Nando’s, moderated by the 2019 AdFocus Awards chairperson, Phumi Mashigo.

How important is client-agency relationship during this period? All the basics of strong relationships and understanding the value that each partner brings is even more important at time like this, said Faheem Chaudhry, MD of M&C Saatchi Abel Johannesburg.

The most fundamental aspect of making a client-agency partnership work – particularly in trying times – is a deep understanding of each other’s business and now it operates so that you can come up with a mutually beneficial way of working, said Darren Hampton, head of Digital Marketing for IMEA at Nando’s. Secondly, he said empathy is vital and understanding what people are going through currently.

The restaurant industry, he added, has been hard hit by the lockdown. Many restaurants decided not to re-open even once lockdown restrictions have been eased. Delivery is a very small percentage of Nando’s business and is the most expensive way of delivering food. As delivery is less financially feasible for Nando’s the brand therefore decided to only open a handful of restaurants to provide a feeding scheme to vulnerable communities. In the meantime, the brand has been working on growing its online app given the likely growth of food delivery.

Behaviours are fixed currently which provides a media opportunity. Creativity has been a great coping mechanism and outlet for people in the current environment. Nando’s has traditionally built its brand reputation on creativity. In order to survive brands need to focus on pivoting their offerings bearing in mind people’s new realities. It’s about remaining relevant at a time when pockets and purses are tighter. However, at the same time, long-term thinking is still required and an investment into marketing continues to be, said Hampton.

During periods of uncertainty looking after your people becomes even more critical, said Chaudhry, adding that M&C Saatchi Abel has prioritised its people during this crisis. Client’s needs haven’t changed and the agency needs to ensure it has the talent to deliver on its clients’ needs. They still need strong creative, strategic thinking and diversity of thought. To be sustainable, agencies need to have a clear idea of their own purpose. They need to be contributing to culture and creating collateral and using technology and new skills to duel creativity rather than to fuel it.

Brands need to understand where the South African psyche is currently situated in order to appropriately respond and understand where to focus their energies. They need to prioritise authenticity rather than a quick win at this time – but in a way that is true to their brand purpose and makes sense for their business. There is a new level of consciousness amongst consumers about why they support the brands they do, argued Hampton.

What is the new normal for communications businesses post Covid-19? While it may be tempting to play into a futurist game, we need to be cautious. There is likely to be a short period of release – particularly as bottle stores open up again, then a period of renewal, followed by a reset period where we will see new behaviours, said Chaudhry, adding that he hopes this includes a focus on supporting local brands and local tourism.

The challenge for management consultancies is that they are not yet getting creativity right.  Consultancies will win the customer experience game but agencies will always win at creativity, predicted Chaudhry, adding that advertising agencies continue to punch above their weight in the African context.

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The big take-out: Those businesses which continue to advertise and keep their brand alive during a crisis tend to reap the reward long term.