Running our business through a pandemic

Photo of Rachel Cook, Client Partner at Thompson Brand Partners stood smiling to camera

As part of our series looking at business survival through the COVID-19 outbreak, we invited our creative agency Thompson Brand Partners to share their experiences with us. In this article Rachel Cook, Client Partner and co-owner, discusses the risks of uncertainty, how they stay creative with a dispersed team, and why over-communication is their strongest weapon.

The only certainty is no certainty

We humans like certainty. We’re compliant creatures who thrive on routine and predictability. We’ll even put up with discomfort if it means we are surrounded by known challenges versus new ones. So, no surprise that one of the most difficult challenges to come out of the COVID-19 outbreak is the lack of certainty for the future, for both business owners and the wider team.

It means that short-term planning is now the only kind of planning. That the validity of cashflow forecasts rely the latest government briefings which might become irrelevant by tomorrow. This brings with it very real stressors which only compound an already tricky situation – something we’ve certainly been feeling throughout our business. We’re glad to have our creativity to help us stay nimble, to find smart solutions and see what others might miss.


Taking control in uncertain times

To navigate the uncertainty, we’re doing whatever we can to take control. We’re avoiding burying our heads in the sand and instead are planning for the good, the bad and the ugly. Once we know the risks, naturally the only step left is to do everything we can to mitigate against them. This is no new advice of course but something that is more pertinent than ever right now.

It also means we’re trying to keep ahead of the curve. By planning early – before lockdown was enforced, in fact – we made rapid changes to our workflows and outgoings before we were housebound and phone lines and broadband networks hammered, and we’re glad of that. We’re continuing to have those conversations ahead of time with our suppliers and partners, so we know what our options are when it comes to outgoings. We’re using our smartest heads to stay informed so we can do our best to pre-empt government announcements, too.


Home office set up showing a video call underway with a cup of coffee next to it

Over-communication, well in advance

It’s impossible to ignore brands and business leaders across the world shifting up a gear when it comes to communicating with their internal teams and the outside world. Certainly we’re seeing it in the shape of work that’s coming in, i.e. content, content, content. Brands are desperate to let the world know that they’re still open for business, and HR teams, CEOs and a whole host of other professionals are desperately trying to harness the power of over-communication to maintain team culture and build morale.

We’re consciously making sure our communications with the wider team are as open as possible, sharing both what we know and what we don’t. We’ve run a colleague survey to find out what we can be doing better, too, and are responding to this. We won’t get it all right but our approach is to keep talking, keep asking, keep getting incrementally better. Every day we’re impressed by the tenacity, positivity and poise of the team during this time, and in turn they tell us that they’re grateful that the open sharing of our revenue forecasts has not been turned off now that things are getting trickier.


Understanding the effect of COVID on mental health

The effect of the coronavirus situation is often cited as having a negative impact on the mental health of the nation at the moment and that can be no surprise to anyone. This is something echoed by the results of our survey as well; 64% of our team feel that the pandemic has had an impact on their mental health, 27% a significant impact and 7% a major impact. The majority – 65% – said it was getting worse as the outbreak continues, too. The commonly mentioned worries were around fears for our families, job security and potential impact on future careers.

What we did learn from our colleagues though was that they have coping mechanisms in place that really work. As you’d expect, lots of them are creative. Things like putting on shoes while you work to help get your head in the game, moving your home office around if you can to mix up your views, getting creative with your hobbies (yes, including that sourdough habit), and changing up daily routines from weekday to weekend, to make sure you mark these days as different.

Our task now is making sure we continue to share these learnings with the team to reassure them and to make sure we really are all in this together.


Well-functioning leadership

So much focus is on maintaining the morale of the wider team, but what about the leadership team? After all, we’re the ones steering the ship at such an extraordinary time, so looking after our own body and mind can surely never have been as important. So how do we do this? How should we change how we work to manage a business entirely remotely from a standing start, whilst still saying sane?

A simple solution is having daily leadership calls which enable us to keep up to speed on even the little changes internally and externally, and to act fast. This faster, more nimble attitude to business management is proving invaluable in keeping us connected and responsive. It’s also helping us as a leadership team to stay really connected at what could otherwise be a really isolating time.


Image of empty Thompson Brand Partners office

Thompson Brand Partners' office in Leeds

The creative challenge

The creative industry is surprisingly behind the times when it comes to remote and flexible working, so the changes to the average working day during the pandemic have been one of the trickiest for us and others like us to get right. We settled into the new way of working fairly quickly, particularly from a project management point of view, but keeping levels of inspiration and collaboration high takes more work than we might have predicted.

For example, Digital Designer, Jamie, commented that in the (physical) studio his ears are constantly tuning in to conversations around him, and previously I would see him continually offering opinions, ideas, coffee, to the benefit of all. Now we need to make time to share inspiring finds on Slack, to comment on those from others, and to engage more actively.

Our monthly creative round-up team meetings are also more important than ever; even when sat in the same studio it’s easy to miss some of the brilliant ideas that have been created, so sharing them with the whole team is crucial now. And whilst they’ve been a little fewer in their number, the good news is that we can see from the brilliant ideas and beautiful execution that creativity can in fact thrive in lockdown. We just need to keep feeding that.


Finally, some certainty

We’re all guessing what will happen next in terms of the bigger picture, but for us, we’re focusing on what we can control right now. We’re looking after our team and we’re staying close to our clients, not just because we need to, but also because harnessing the power of positivity, looking after others and the planet, and helping bring about positive change are some the values that our business is built on – and now is the time we need our values more than ever.


Take a brief look at studio life for Thompson in their short video.

Find them on Instagram @thompsonbrandpartners and Twitter @thompsonbp


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