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Answers for Uncertain Times: A Q&A with Kim Mickelsen, CEO of Bozell

March 18th, 2020

Q. What can businesses do during the global crisis caused by the pandemic?

A. I know it sounds strange but think and imagine. When times are good, we don’t take the time to think because we are busy getting things done. Now is the time to think and analyze. Worry and anxiety won’t get it done. The business world will be drastically different in a few months. Step back a bit and prepare for that future.

Q. Can you provide an example?

A. The list is endless. Let’s take data, for example. We gather terabytes of it. The data we gather and report is “the what.” But in this “new normal,” we should figure out “the why.” This is the time to slow down and gain those insights.

There are answers to “the why” in the data. So, go back and crunch the data into some semblance that allows you to model, hypothesize and glean insights. This will help form a strong, competitive analysis and tell you how you are going to move forward and gain market share.

Q. Other than thinking, can businesses do other things?

A. Sure, be creative. Say you are a bank and you are worried about your financial situation and that of your employees and customers. Or a restaurant struggling because of the fear of human contact. Even families with children are looking for things to do to relieve anxiety and distract from the news of the day. There are plenty of business problems right now. And there are creative ways to approach each of them. Today, we have the technology to put people together in safe, appropriate ways to creatively solve the issues.

Q. What else can businesses do?

A. The number one thing that businesses can and should be doing right now is communicating – overcommunicating – with all stakeholders. This goes beyond initial announcements about “with an abundance of caution, we’re closing.”

Q. Why overcommunicate? And what should be shared?

A. The communication needs to fit the business and its audiences. No matter what the channel – websites, social media, news media, blogs and content, or internal communications – now is the time to build trust, be forthright and avoid “spinning” the truth. This type of communication helps elevate your brand.

The pandemic will be a life-changing event and people are emotional creatures who fear change. While things are not going to be the same, businesses and leaders need to be clear, transparent and as reassuring as possible with all stakeholders, especially your employees. While people fear change, they respect the transparency.

Q.  Do soft skills really work? Do they produce ROI?

A. Yes. Soft skills do matter. I like the Mo Bunnell quote: “Likeability is a soft skill that leads to hard results.”  The results of soft skills aren’t necessarily short term, but they do bring results. Our company maintains a nearly 100-year-old core principal – paying rent for the space we occupy on Earth and in the community. This core value creates ROI in the form of respect, high-quality employees, employee engagement and business referrals. These are the hard results for being a good corporate citizen.

In addition, transparency is important to younger consumers. Millennials and Gen Z want to know your corporate values. They look at how you treat your employees. There is a desire among younger audiences for businesses to do what’s right, and in particular, what is needed to be better.

Q. Does this mean in hard economic times you should give things away?

A. All businesses are struggling with revenue right now. It’s hard to give things away, but every business likely is incurring costs. What can you give away in your inventory that is generous and cannot be sold right now? Does it have a greater value to others? Can it make things better or offer a higher level of service to the public? I think every business has something of value they can offer for free without a significant cost to the company.

Q. Anything else?

A. Don’t forget your people. Again, communicate with your own employees. Let them be creative and a part of the solution. We’re encouraging people to think outside the box in an unfettered manner.

While the pandemic is scary, it is a healthy time of reset. It’s also a great reminder to go back to things that really matter in business and life. Every so often, life gives you a needed kick in the butt – a chance to do things that you don’t do when things are good.

It’s the opportunity born of crisis that we see our country at its best. I think we will see that again.

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