Covid-19: What communications challenges does the crisis hold for financial sector companies?

Yohann Hendrice, Partner and Client Director at FARGO, analyses the current communications challenges of financial industry players faced with the Covid-19 crisis.

Confinement, telecommuting, remote management… the health crisis has plunged all companies into uncharted waters. As a communications agency, what solutions have you implemented to continue your business?

Like many companies, the telecommuting imposed by confinement measures takes centre stage in our organisation and in ensuring we can continue our activity. ‘Comprehensive’ home-based work has been relatively easy to implement, as we provide a dematerialised service that is compatible with working from home. Another advantage is that we had already implemented the structural framework of regular or occasional teleworking more than a year ago, including established guidelines, which has enabled swift and effective deployment under shelter-at-home.

We rely on software applications that allow us to easily ‘dematerialise’ our working relationships without loss of value, both between employees and with our customers and partners. Slack, Trello and Google Meet are our best allies as substitutes for face-to-face interactions.

Beyond these technical provisions, we are also rethinking our work habits. Confinement is a potentially stressful experience, generating de facto physical isolation and uncertainty. From a managerial point of view, it is crucial to be especially attentive to morale among your team. You need to identify possible weak signals and establish new rituals for interacting that are more deliberate than what might take place in an open-plan office. The challenge is to maintain the team’s esprit de corps despite the circumstances.

So, how are you conducting your business? And what communications challenges are your customers experiencing?

Operationally, we compensate for the absence of physical meetings, which are central in our relationship-based businesses, by videoconferencing. The goal is to maintain the quality of our interactions and keep our recommendations, validation deadlines and project management processes flowing smoothly.

The most perceptible change is linked to the impact that the current context on the very nature of our clients’ communication strategies. Some, by choice or by constraint, opt for minimal communications or even suspend them altogether; others must quickly rethink their communications landscape, their messages and their preferred channels to continue reaching their audience. The financial and economic crisis taking shape in the wake of the health crisis requires many companies to strengthen their reassuring messages. This is especially true of the financial sphere, which represents the bulk of our client portfolio.

At an agency such as ours, we see increasing calls for our consulting and solutions dimensions. We make available our considerable toolbox and a wide range of services, some of which are particularly appropriate right now.

Abandoning all forms of communication in times of crisis means damaging the company’s image in the longer term.

What are these communication levers, more specifically?

To sum up, our range of services extends from the audit and design of a communication strategy to the highly operational implementation of such a strategy, both in terms of content and the selection and use of different distribution channels across paid, owned or earned media. This value chain includes press relations strategies, brand-platform strategies, production of editorial content and omnichannel digital strategies.

Although our clients belong to a wide variety of financial sub-sectors, each with its own specificities (asset management, private banking, investment banking, real estate, fintech…), we observe several strong trends emerging in the current crisis. One is the desire on the part of some to reach their targets more directly and immediately, in part to fulfil a logic of reassuring communication, but also to preserve the employer brand. Push-based digital levers, such as organic or sponsored social media campaigns, e-mail campaigns promoting content or even native ads in captive media are particularly popular as well. From this point of view, the crisis tends to accelerate the phenomenon of “B2C-fication” of communication in the financial sector.

In terms of content, the pedagogical tone and associative qualities of messaging have been enhanced. The aim is to provide keys for understanding the situation in the face of mounting economic and financial upheaval, and to maintain a close relationship with addressees, whether they be professional investors or individual savers.

In a few words, what comms advice would you give company management in the current context?

Given the many priorities that management must address in a time of crisis, the most immediate of which is undoubtedly cash management, it is sometimes tempting to ‘unplug’ communications. This is a defensive reflex, and perfectly natural. However, a company’s communications arm and the resulting impact on image must considered as a corporate asset in their own right. Abandoning all forms of communication in times of crisis means damaging the company’s image in the longer term.

In the period we are going through, I would advise focussing on the marketing communication tools whose KPIs and return on investment are the most direct and measurable. This is the special purview of sponsored social media campaigns or, more generally, qualified audience acquisition campaigns. These are built on a test & learn approach and make it possible to optimise the cost/targeting ratio. These levers should be seen as a solid support to the commercial consolidation cycle.