Alex Cernatescu – “Dear brands, STOP STOPPING…NOW!” – Full IQAds Interview

When did you start to notice the impact in the business? 

Unfortunately, I believe our whole industry started to notice negative effects on their businesses since the first week- in the end, we are the fastest industry, right?

Honestly, in the first week I noticed 3 types of reactions among clients and partners from other agencies:

1. Idealistic – “everything is normal, we don’t have anything to fear” – all these disappeared in the third week, they moved to the next reaction type…

2. Realistic – “what’s happening is very atypical, we sure have to take action but in a smart way”- still hanging in, taking it step by step…

3. Ultra-pessimistic – “all’s going to Hell…” – and they stopped answering the phone…

What are the first measures you’ve taken? What’s the short and medium-term crisis strategy?

When we are facing these kinds of situations, we have a fast and firm approach, never a rushed one.

As I recently said, we focused on 2 very important aspects: 

1. Our employees’ safety and health.

2. Keep on delivering impeccable services for our clients. 

Simultaneously, we thought of multiple scenarios for the impact this situation will have on our clients, from an economic point of view. These changes will also affect us, so we started with optimizing and reducing costs immediately, but keeping the structural integrity. Let’s not forget that we are all making sacrifices now, we are living hard times, but there will be a business life after corona – it is important not to forget this when we make decisions, especially under pressure.

We also rearranged our variety of services. We have been activating a lot in the digital area, so it’s important to continue what we are doing, just at a stronger intensity where it is needed.

How did your different industry clients react?

We have 13 years of entrepreneurial experience that taught us how we should manage these kinds of situations. But the truth is that nobody is prepared of what is happening now.

There are very affected industries, even blocked by the context, and we stand by them through both good and bad times.

For example, the non-essential retail, durable goods, fashion, real-estate etc. are very affected but we are trying to find out solutions together, in order to move on during this period. 

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How does this effect the current and future projects?

Some projects are now on hold and many of them are postponed on undefined terms.

Even so, there are new projects that appeared for many clients who came to us by directing big budges for digital – creative work, digital strategy plus media buying and planning – budges that are taken from instore or other activities which they used to have before this situation. Maybe it seems easy to accommodate a bigger budget in online, but if you want to do it in a smart way and with ROI is not that easy as it seems.

In these times, together with our clients, we are rebuilding the entire online experience, sites, user journeys, re-adapting all flows. Many of them tried only with landing pages or product pages and now, with so many people staying home that have the time to get to know brands better, the clients decided to improve their digital assets. 

Also, the consulting we offer brands for digital solution regarding work-from-home or digital tooling grew a lot, together with digital transformation projects.

New requests are coming from the “e-commerce” area. Many of them are in the “loyalty” phase, in the process of creating a stronger brand which will help them scale in this context. It’s a domain in which we can add end-to-end value.

Let’s not forget that together with creative work, media and data analytics, at a group level, only in Romania, we have approximately 2,000 people, most of them in Bucharest. They are specialized in technology, digital transformation and digital end-to-end, so we can help the brands fast, in complex situations like this one – facts that also stand for our positioning as a company.

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What are the most important points in an ethics code that all communication companies should adhere to in this time?

Transparency. Empathy. Utility – applied both for the consumer, but also their intern teams.

Companies need to be closer to their consumers now more than ever, to support their teams and but also agencies, that usually stand by their side.

What do brands do now? What did you notice in the way they communicated so far? What was good or bad?

To define what’s good in this context is a true challenge. We are all fighting together with our clients to define “good” step by step.

Regarding what is bad, I have a message for brands:

Stop yourselves from stopping! Slow down if you want, fold, make strategic moves, but DO NOT stop.

You can’t pull the hand brake while you are still driving, the effects can be really bad and not only for you, but for the ecosystem of partners which you worked many years for, investing lots of time to build. Don’t ruin it in 1-2 weeks out of fear!

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What’s next in brands’ communications? How should they get out of this numbness times?

Exactly how you leave the numb state of being – through movement.

How will the first isolation made campaigns will look like?

Identically from a quality point of view, radically different regarding messages that will be adapted in real time at whatever will happen when they have to be on air. We are thinking of new forms of content for TikTok, Twitch etc., activities, applications for spending time at home that will take us closer to our loved ones. Communication messages stay, the medium will change and is not something negative because as we adapt to people’s needs (who #STAYHOME) campaigns and messages can support the same initiative. 

How do you think the crisis will impact the marcomm business?

When you are facing new and unknown situations – a pandemic which has no clear health consequences, which will also lead to forced behavior changes and puts the economy on hold or slow motion (with few exceptions) is very hard to anticipate what will truly happen next.

Uncertainty is the most dangerous thing in business (and in general) – we all know how to take action when we have a clear foresight, even a bad one, but clear. We sell more, we readapt services, etc. But when everything is unclear is like driving in fog – the instinct is to brake on until you feel you are safely driving again. The problem is that, now, many business players feel like driving in the dark, without headlights. Some of them have already completely braked and turned on the car’s warning lights.

How hast do you think the industry players will adapt? 

I cannot answer this, and I believe nobody can. There can be digital agencies that are ready resources and skill wise but with 80% of their portfolio made out of retail and fashion clients… What can they do? Or you can have agencies that are not so ready for digitalization, but which have as a client a disinfectant brand, supermarkets, food, or toilet paper. 

What is happening is so atypical for so many business areas, but also geographically and so it is impossible to determine what will happen on a long term. 



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