How is your team dealing with the coronavirus pandemic? We share highlights and ideas from our Zoom gathering of Directors and Heads of BD & Marketing.
Space to share ideas
In response to COVID-19, we hosted a BD & Marketing ‘Zoom meeting’ to provide a confidential space to share thoughts, plans and ideas with Heads of and Directors of BD & Marketing. It was really encouraging to see firms carefully and sensitively planning in what is no doubt a difficult time. It was also clear how important other issues have become including the human side of keeping in touch, getting to know colleagues better, and taking the time now to implement new digital and technology projects that will get firms into the right place for the future.
Overall teams are exceptionally busy, particularly those aligned to practice and sectors such as employment, litigation, competition, pharma and life sciences. The work that the marketing and business development teams are currently involved in is incredibly interesting and ever changing. With partner engagement generally very high, those within the BD & Marketing teams have internal profile and a real opportunity.
These are the discussion highlights:
Planning / Budgets
For all firms, marketing budgets have been reviewed and rebudgeted for the short and mid-term, with some budgets cut by c25%. The focus is on immediate cashflow rather than longer term planning until firms have greater clarity on the impact of COVID-19. Some of these savings have come from travel, hospitality and events. Other firms have restricted all spend for the time being. This is being seen as a good opportunity to focus on essential BD & marketing, and projects that add value and generate revenue in the short-mid-term.
For some, key projects will continue, including rebranding; others will focus on back office projects. Some firms have invested in technology during the past month – Passle and Webex have been particularly popular, to better engage with colleagues and clients at this time. This is a great time to introduce other digital projects too: some that were waiting to be signed off have been given the go-ahead as there is recognition that a strong digital footprint is paramount as we interface with the market differently. The investment is justified by money being saved on ‘live’ events.
In other areas, however, business critical projects have been deferred to autumn/winter, although firms will need to be mindful of how many projects marketing teams will be able to pick up again in just one quarter.
Areas of focus will be to convince partners that some spend is essential, to ensure that engagement with referrals and clients around the world can be maintained. BD & marketing will also need to continue to support those areas of the business that remain extremely busy. Other opportunities will arise that could be quite exciting including changing Partner and employees behaviour towards marketing activities e.g. digital / virtual.
Managing teams remotely
For some, this has been challenging. Some are managing new teams. Furloughing has dominated conversations, and there’s keen awareness of the need to keep up team spirits. All firms highlighted the importance of keeping in touch including with those who had been furloughed and vulnerable employees. But overall attendees said how amazed they have been at how quickly teams have moved into a new ‘norm’, with new routines.
Some teams have welcomed new members. Virtual onboarding isn’t easy but there was positive feedback on the efficiency of the process so far, including the success of assigning buddies to new joiners. Some firms are holding utilisation meetings to encourage redeployment to areas that are very busy. This can provide an opportunity for individuals to broaden their experience and responsibility but needs to be managed carefully. Internal comms has become a full-time job for some – sharing firm announcements, videos from MDs, etc. Teams have also made the most of Instagram and other social media, creating private LinkedIn groups for knowledge sharing to avoid clogging up email boxes, for example. Attendees said they had seen a massive increase in readership of newsletters, which include 30% non-work contributions.
It was highlighted how important it was to ensure that more junior members of teams don’t lose their facetime with partners and fee earners in the business. Where normally they would attend a meeting with their manager, some are being left out of online meetings and calls. Ensuring that they continue to attend meetings and maintain visibility will be vital for them to continue building those relationships.
Appraisals and personal development are on hold and will be revisited in due course.
Keeping the team engaged
There were some really interesting ideas here including quizzes, themed virtual events and drinks. One firm has a daily Spotify list sent out by the Managing Partner with recommendations sent in by staff. One firm has engaged their junior members of the team to create a “daily lockdown” newspaper, which gets sent out every week. This can include any number of items and helps to make the firm feel personable, when people can’t physically be together. One firm does a weekly team challenge that is set by a different individual each week (and sometimes set by their children!). With lots of encouragement to talk to each other about things outside of work, attendees felt that they were actually getting to know their teams much better.
Firms are mindful of ‘always being on’ in this virtual landscape. They are therefore encouraging partners and employees to be transparent with their time and share when they are going out for a walk during the day. Also, individuals may have different working patterns – just because some may be working in the evenings, it doesn’t mean others have to do the same.
Firms are using more videos and vlogs to try and personalise messages, rather than sending firm-wide emails. Partners are not necessarily comfortable with filming themselves, but it seems to be working well and has been well received. Messages have been timed to go out in working hours.
It’s important for the management team to make themselves more available. Some have held Town Hall meetings where staff have been asked to submit questions anonymously beforehand for senior management to answer. Some firms have also asked people to avoid lunch meetings if possible so that staff can spend time with their families.
Furloughing to date has varied between firms. Attendees agreed that individuals who have been furloughed have been pretty understanding as to why. Furloughing has been positioned as staff making a sacrifice for the firm. Some have gone into volunteering or helping the community, efforts that have been communicated internally. Some have set up WhatsApp groups so furloughed employees can join in social activities.
Firms are encouraging their employees to take their annual leave or at least some of it, to ensure they’re also looking after their mental health and switching off. Holiday policies are being adjusted to encourage employees to take at least some of their holiday over the next few months. Most are looking into allowing some holiday to be carried forward. Attendees were conscious of the need to avoid an influx of holiday requests all at the same time when firms will need their BD resources more than ever. One firm shared a nice message from their Managing Partner to say he was off over Easter and wouldn’t be checking in, so they would hear from him when he was back from annual leave and he was encouraging others to do the same. There are, however, teams that are still really busy, so they don’t necessarily want to push them to take holiday now.
Of course, there have been challenges as firms have made a huge shift in working culture pretty much overnight. But for those we spoke to here, many of these changes have been for the better. It has shown nearly immediately that new ways of working can be adopted, new technology utilised and there are exciting projects ahead. It has also introduced many to a more personable workplace – kids coming into a meeting is not the end of the world, it just makes us more human!
The focus of these events is to provide support, to encourage debate and knowledge sharing, as well as provide the opportunity to meet and share experiences with others at a similar level.