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“If you’re going through hell, keep going”

15 Apr 2020

As we approach the 75th anniversary of the end of the last truly global catastrophe and Boris channels his inner Churchill, Adrian Kilby, Creative Director of The Formation Creative Consultants, himself a seasoned veteran of 35 years of numerous international crisis and challenges, takes a broad look at our changing socio-economic landscape and the potential opportunities that the current ‘hostile invasion’ will undoubtedly create.

Winston and his wartime ministries knew a thing or two about preparing for a crisis, surviving it - then coming out the other side. In our current situation, we can learn a lot from analysing those philosophies and approaches through our own 20/20 lens:


For the first time since 1945, the world is facing the same crisis together at the same time.
In the responsible majority, this engenders feelings of anxiety, but also a realisation for the need for, and the reassurance created through, collaboration.

This started with the nations pulling together to implement social distancing and has extended to a myriad of shared initiatives, resulting in everything from communal balcony singing, virtual dinner parties and club nights, through sophisticated business conferencing, online fitness and DIY craft skills, to completely revolutionary thinking on existing and new retail concepts. 

This is an ideal time to really interrogate your business model. Is it too rigid? Is it imbalanced? Could it become more fluid and flexible – a consortium or co-operative, responding quicker and more proactively, rather than the traditional, more rigid structure.

It is also the time for consultants such as ourselves to work closely with our clients on mutually beneficial terms, to help navigate a new path together.

Take Responsibility

It is crucial that, as a company and employer, you do the right thing and are seen to do it. Brands are being judged on their behaviour during this period and how responsibly and compassionately they respond. 

This crisis will act as a huge filter, with many business and brands unfortunately going to the wall. Those that survive will be operating in a very different, incredibly volatile retail landscape and will have only their ongoing reputations to support them. Unfortunately, for every good example, such as Pret and IHG, there are the likes of Sports Direct and Virgin Atlantic.

Take responsibility and be honest. Communicate regularly and clearly. Be honorable and realistic.

Keep Communicating

With your customers denied the tangible, sensory experience of interacting with your brand, it is in danger of becoming abstract and irrelevant. You must work much harder and become more proactive and inventive in reaching out and engaging with your market. 

Develop and expand deliveries where possible and maintain a compelling, organic online presence that encourages interaction and dialogue with both your staff and customers.  Try things out, develop regular competitions, live chats, podcasts etc..

Virtual lock down means a majoritive captive audience with large amounts of time and a desire to be informed, entertained and ultimately, reassured. Our clients across the globe have realised this and together we are developing and implementing proactive and engaging creative strategies.

Use Your Resources

With mass retail closure and responsible social isolation, businesses and individuals are being forced to look long and hard at their individual circumstances, dig deep into both their financial and mental resources and adapt to a ‘new normal’ This is by no means a bad thing. Plenty of highly successful entrepreneurs learnt far more through adversity than from their successes. 

Think Differently

As I am writing this, the only thing that is definite is that this crisis is upon us and is not going away any time soon. How we deal with it as individuals and companies and the opportunities we identify are all yet to be determined. 

With more time, but less capital, so many new options in retail can be explored: Flexible home working, the generation of multiple, parallel revenue streams and the catalyst to start a low cost, low risk online business or think through the strategy of your current business with your partners, employees and other professionals has never been more accessible.
As a consultancy we are working with all our clients to help them discover ways of streamlining their business and developing it in directions that would never have been revealed to them in more normal, predictable trading times.

Prepare For The Future

A Brave New World?
No one can say with any degree of confidence what the UK (let alone the world) retail landscape will look like post COVID-19, other than it will be very different. Again, now is the time to explore these scenarios and possibly identify directions, opportunities and potential new markets that may emerge. 

There has been a lot of talk about how this crisis could act as some form of revelatory reawakening: The world will have learnt its lesson and we will all act far more responsibly, desire less and retain a sense of communal philanthropy.

I am less than convinced. You only need to look at the irresponsible behaviour of many of the world’s citizens, or the queues outside Chanel in China when their ban was lifted.  I don’t recall reading of too many people in Britain mourning the end of rationing in 1954.

Desire to spend
We may be severely shaken up and a lot of conventional marketing and consumption will change – but I feel we will inevitably return to type. Whether it will be ‘buy less, but buy better’ or indiscriminate ‘revenge spending’ remains to be seen.

Desire to travel
Tourism isn’t predicted to pick up until at least the fourth quarter of 2020.
With ongoing restrictions and the crisis in the aviation industry, coupled with a natural reticence to expose oneself to possible re-contamination, international travel will take its time to re-emerge. Local and UK based leisure and holiday activity is likely to massively increase, so opportunities at home may well present themselves. 

But before any of this can happen we need to make it through to the other side. So, it is apposite to end this article with another quote from perhaps our greatest Briton, but re- attributed to all members of the NHS and the emergency services:

“Never.. was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Adrian Kilby is the Founder and Creative Director of The Formation Creative Consultants. 

A multi award-winning international brand creation agency. Founded in 1994 they have weathered many a storm. Contact:

Please note, this content is not produced by the IoD and therefore does not necessarily represent the views or thoughts of the organisation.

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