‘Iron’ Mike Tyson famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Not long into 2020 most businesses and organisations were no doubt equipped with plans for growth – ourselves included – designed to take advantage of new opportunities and to meet the changing needs of clients, consumers and colleagues.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented and unpredicted punch in the face for all those plans and strategies. Like in the boxing ring, having taken this blow, how you respond next is critically important. In Tyson’s case no doubt it involved getting off the ropes and out of immediate trouble, catching your breath, rethinking your strategy and coming out fighting once again. Of course, in this scenario, success or otherwise will also depend on current fitness levels, your skills and experience, and the support of those in your corner even. Also critical is your ability to think on your feet and to innovate.
In this context, never has the saying ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ been more relevant and so much so, it may well decide who in business survives this particular bout to fight again.
One of the most immediate and obvious signs of this saying in practice, is around how we work. Out of necessity, this crisis has fundamentally changed day-to-day work life for so many people – so much so that the new hashtag #WFH is regularly trending. Luckily modern technology means we have never been better prepared to take this particular hit and adapt. The ability to do so has also been tested like never before as tech has had to also support homeschooling and an increase in online in-home entertainment – all at the same time. No doubt it has resulted in quite a few heated discussions as to who gets WiFi priority, but largely thankfully it has worked so far. While working from home will be a new concept to many, the question is when we emerge from the shadow of coronavirus will this be the new norm ? We suspect for many it will.
The importance of invention in difficult times has never been more apparent in our amazing clients. Over recent days and weeks, we have had the great pleasure and privilege to support many of them as they have responded to the new challenges presented by Coronavirus – something which has brought their agile thinking and innovation to the fore.
If we didn’t appreciate it before, we have all come to understand the vital role the local food supply chain is in helping us all through this crisis – so much so that it is deserving of our #FoodHeroes campaign. In the coming days you will be able to follow the campaign online as we work with various food sector clients recognise and tell the various stories of many unsung heroes across the industry.
Agrifood has been recognised as a vital frontline service to ensure food and other important supplies continue to find their way onto our shelves and into our homes. Clients like Moy Park, Dale Farm, Neill’s Flour, Irwin’s Bakery and Cloughbane Foods have all had to wrestle with the need to keep production lines moving while also protecting their workers throughout. This has required a lot of innovative thinking and the design of new approaches to shift working, physical changes in production lines and deliveries as well as the introduction of new staff welfare facilities which support social distancing etc.
Equally on the retail side, we have been helping Asda to respond responsibly to introduce new safety measures to support safe customer shopping, increase online deliveries, prioritise access for NHS and elderly/vulnerable people, while all the same time supporting and protecting their colleagues.
Throughout the supply chain this has involved incredible levels of ingenuity, effort and co-operation in very trying times. They deserve our thanks and appreciation.
Dale Farm has also recognised the increasing importance of home deliveries and is ramping up its milk and wider dairy delivery service in response. To do this, we have designed and developed a new online portal that facilitates local milk deliveries www.mymilkdelivery.com. This is an online service in partnership with independent milkmen across Northern Ireland that will help bring fresh, locally made dairy products safely to the doorsteps of homes. It will evolve into a fully operational e-commerce site in the very near future.
Similarly, in other sectors, our clients are adapting and evolving how they operate in this new climate. In banking, our client AIB has responded with new in-branch practices, and a ramping up of online services and facilities, alongside the introduction of 3-month payment holidays to keep the financial wheels turning. Translink has changed its service offering in view of social distancing measures, including providing free services to support healthcare workers and blood supply deliveries. Ulster Independent Clinic is also joining the medical fight against coronavirus by playing its part in maintaining a functioning NHS health service and meeting the medical needs of patients across Northern Ireland.
Innovation goes beyond food manufacturing of course. We have recently supported Bloc Blinds as they moved swiftly to produce necessary PPE equipment for the NHS frontline. Following the creation of a prototype last week, the company has now repurposed its production line and will be able to produce 22,000 FaceShields per day and is aiming to ramp up production volume in the weeks ahead. FaceShields provide vital direct splash face protection to those bravely working on the front line against Covid-19. In a similar vein, another client, Ad-Vance Engineering, is producing the plastic mould tools which are being used, innovatively by Shnuggle to manufacture more FaceShields. Innovation and collaboration for the greater good.
We will be also soon be featuring the story of Echlinville Distillery in Kircubbin in videos we are producing for the NI Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) to demonstrate the type of inventive thinking taking place. This distillery has swapped production from whiskey and gin to hand sanitiser, which they are then supplying to organisations and businesses involved in frontline services across Northern Ireland.
Our own skillset has also been tested like never before in these strange times. For clients like the cross border CAWT Innovation Recovery mental health project and the all-island food safety and nutrition promotion body, Safefood we are developing innovative ways for them to continue to deliver online training and engagement to their audiences. Mental health in these challenging times has been recognised as critically important for many and the Innovation Recovery team’s expertise and support is vital. Equally food safety and nutrition advice and guidance remain important considerations. We are helping these, and other clients harness new ways to deliver that same expertise and engagement.
In such a challenging climate, there is still a need for organisations to communicate effectively. Arguably there has never been a more important time for clarity of message and purpose. Our focus is on helping clients solve problems and deliver ‘out of the box’ thinking for these unprecedented circumstances. It’s something we thrive on. We are using technology in clever ways: using animation and archive footage where filming isn’t possible; hosting online events where physical gatherings are restricted; delivering online comms and maximizing social media engagement like never before. We are also forming strategic partnerships and mutually beneficial alignments for ourselves and our clients where common goals can be achieved by working together.
We, along with many of our clients have taken the punch in the face delivered by Covid-19, but we are very much rallying and coming out fighting. If we can help you to fight your corner, innovate or communicate differently now or into the future, please just reach out on any of our channels.