What happens when the world gets begrudgingly sent home?

A letter by Alex Bennett Grant, Founder & CEO of WE ARE Pi

This piece is part of our Creativity Moves Us Forward project. A new space to amplify stories of how quick-thinking, acts of kindness, invention and compassion are being employed in real-time to solve some of the issues we’re collectively facing in this new reality. 

 With so many people suffering from this growing pandemic and the ensuing recession, is it misplaced to be optimistic? I was unsure how the world's most outwardly liberal nation would react to forced isolation. It has been over a week since Dutch Premier Mark Rutte mandated schools, restaurants, venues and gyms shut until April 6th. Once supermarkets and ‘Coffee Shop’ queues quietened down, Amsterdam adopted a new sense of calm. The spring sun cast new light over a city that, on the surface at least, had started following orders.

As reality set in and people in their thousands ignored the status quo, I realised that the situation demands a unique response. However big or small, actions of solidarity need to be taken. I set about defining three simple things I could do immediately. First, rally my network to self-isolate; second, share the positive trends I was seeing and finally, work with our clients to do what we do best, and explore how we can respond to the crisis in helpful ways. Or in simple terms: Home, Humanity and Health.


1. Stay home: An exception to breaking the rules.

As a self-professed pirate and independent agency CEO, I ordinarily stand for breaking rules and not following orders. But these are not ordinary times. So, I wrote an open letter, calling on fellow Adland pirates and indie agency leaders to, on this one occasion, follow the rules and commit to self-isolation. I was buoyed by the supportive and speedy responses I received from agency heads across the globe and by the knowledge that action shared really could be action multiplied.


2. Stay human: Reinventing client relationships.

We are participating in the largest labour force social experiment of modern times, the side effects of which we will still be learning and recounting for years to come. Never before have my work and real lives been as intertwined. I’m running an agency from home using Slack, Google Hangouts, camaraderie and empathy. In this new era, client video calls come with dishevelled hair, cereal bowls and interruptions from kids are part of the norm. Instead of corporate meeting rooms, we are all getting to peek into each other’s lives from kitchen tables, couches and spare rooms around the world.

The pandemic has put every brand’s 2020 plans into flux. Just as the SARS epidemic accelerated the adoption of e-commerce in China, this crisis will have a lasting impact on consumer behaviour.

We all are undeniably, unavoidably human with each other now, and this can only be a good thing. As consumers, our focus is now on health, our experiences have shifted into the home, and we are finding new ways to empathize and connect with each other. I’m a strategist at heart, which is why I’ve worked with my team to quickly turn these learnings into a new marketing framework based on Home, Health and Humanity. We published the Rethink 2020 report free online on Monday, and invited the marketing community to a conversation about the positive changes we can make together.


3. Stay healthy. Sometimes putting others first is the best way to survive.

By the time I finished calling all our clients last Monday, any hope I’d preserved that some part of our year would be normal was dashed. However, I did discover that there is something motivating in the knowledge that we are all in this together. I started to believe that advertisers and agencies really may have something positive to contribute to the fight. So, we got to work.

In just 72 hours we concepted, pitched and produced Work-Ins with INTERSPORT, a live social media coaching initiative to encourage people to keep training for their favourite outdoor sports, while cooped up inside. This was the eureka moment I was looking for. The power of teams working remotely to help a brand working remotely to help a community to continue to train remotely. Life becomes art, becomes life.

 

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Since The Netherlands went into lockdown half of the planet has followed suit. The world’s leading economies are all part of the social isolation solidarity experiment. Or as I like to think of it, the great Home, Health and Humanity experiment. I remain hopeful and optimistic this will lead to positive breakthroughs for the world if we each stop to reflect on our acts.

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