Staff Writer
Apr 11, 2022

Charting tomorrow’s business strategy with today’s news

At a roundtable hosted by BBC and Campaign Asia, media agency and brand leaders discussed the ways that headline news has affected their decision-making.

Charting tomorrow’s business strategy with today’s news

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It has been a common refrain these last few years that we are living in unprecedented times; watching history as it unfolds. We are all aware of how these era-defining moments influence decisions on a personal level — but what about business? From multinational corporations pulling out of the Russian market due to the war in Ukraine, to companies re-examining their policies in light of the Great Resignation, the biggest news stories in recent times have also shaped business decision-making for 2022 and beyond.

With this adaptive, informed approach to strategy in mind, Campaign Asia and BBC co-organised Blueprint for 2022, a roundtable with Asia’s top media agency and brand leaders across diverse sectors, to discuss the effect that significant headline stories from recent times have had on their business decisions. The discussion was moderated by esteemed BBC Asia presenter Karishma Vaswani, with Campaign Asia’s editorial director Robert Sawatzky providing insights from a marketing perspective.

Russia-Ukraine war: Balancing public expectations with internal priorities

The discussion on the dominating news story of 2022, the Russia-Ukraine war, was varied and nuanced as expected. For businesses, the major question was: To exit the Russian market or not? While consumers pressured companies to act quickly, JLL’s CMO for Asia Pacific, Gita De Beer, explained that the public timeline of how quickly a brand responds to an event like war belies the actual work being done behind the scenes.

“How a multinational company reacts to the major geopolitical crisis currently unfolding in Ukraine relies on many factors, which will be unique to each organisation. At the heart of this timeline was the safety and security of our people in both Ukraine and Russia, which in the current situation, requires care, consideration, and compassion,” she said. “There are always multiple angles being considered when an event of this magnitude occurs, especially given that any decision taken will impact people and clients. Striking a balance between an appropriate response that represents the values of your organisation and the timeliness of this response is a key consideration and not one we took lightly.”

That measured, people-first approach was echoed by Dominic Powers, head of business growth in Asia Pacific for dentsu International. Powers recalled that dentsu employees in Poland drove into Ukraine to evacuate their colleagues as the war broke out, with the company’s first priority being to find accommodation for displaced staff and offer them jobs around their network. Only afterwards did dentsu make public announcements that it was withdrawing from its joint venture in Russia and donating to the Ukrainian Red Cross, noted Powers.

John Williams, vice president of advertising sales for Singapore & Southeast Asia, BBC, commented on the gravity of leaving the Russian market. “These are long-term decisions, because it’s not likely the business would return the next year. Leaving Russia doesn’t only affect people, it is a long-term decision with ramifications for your business because Russia is a market of size and scale.”

Sawatzky agreed, noting that the economic effects of companies leaving Russia has also impacted commodities globally, with prices going up due to scarcity. “But I think the ethical side is really interesting,” he said. “And I really think that reporting plays an important role. Without stories of the people on the ground who are affected you don't get CEOs like Alan Jope of Unilever coming out with strong statements condemning the war.”

How Covid has reinvented the way we work

Another major factor for long-term business decisions is Covid. Growing employee dissatisfaction with the status quo and the widespread adoption of work-from-home models during the start of the pandemic are just some of the reasons for the sea change in global working culture. On the topic of the Great Resignation — the worldwide phenomenon of people quitting their jobs in droves — Krishnan Menon, chief client officer for Merkle & dentsu CXM APAC, pointed out that businesses shouldn’t just be asking why their employees are leaving, but what they are searching for with their next roles.

While it might be easy to chalk up turnover to competitors offering better pay, Menon posited a more personal theory. “In the pandemic, the fact that people went away and got to be by themselves at work made them also look inwards and understand themselves — their values, what they hold dear, and what makes them tick,” he said. “And when they’re more aware of who they are, they’re considering whether they align with the organisation and its leaders. People look for new opportunities when they feel undervalued, isolated, uninspired or lose their sense of belonging. Leaders must correct that, rather than trying to match the offer after the fact. That’s too little too late.”

The experience of employees prioritising values over perks resonated with Siew Ting Foo, chief marketing officer for Greater Asia at HP, who opined that it was interesting to see the word “culture” actually refer to culture, rather than amenities like gym memberships or breakfast. “When you talk to Gen Z, the first thing they ask is ‘Do you do anything about sustainability, diversity, and inclusion?’ Being real about what you stand for is what’s going to differentiate the companies that stand the test of time.”

While that focus on brand values and ethics is associated with Gen Z, Foo noted that “employees of all levels, ourselves included” are questioning why they come to work and whether they can do things differently. “Culture and how culture evolves with the times is critical.”

As a real estate services firm, JLL offers a more practical perspective on the topic of changes to working culture because, as De Beer puts it, “The future of work has a lot to do with how the offices will be built.” Using web 3.0 — another main topic from the event — to explain her point of view, she stated, “The way this future generation works together is so different, because they’re all in the metaverse. So they play Roblox and Minecraft, and they’re actually building, creating, and solving mega issues without knowing the people they work with.”

Informed by people’s ability to collaborate and work productively online, the company is exploring ways to embed openness and innovation into everything from tech to sustainability and in-office experiences when designing the future workplace. “The office as it was in the old days doesn’t exist anymore, because people now have a choice, and they’re demanding choices,” she concluded.

Joony Lee, director of marketing for Citrix, spoke about the importance of staying attuned to employee satisfaction to improve retention. “HR departments could leverage data on how people are using corporate digital tools and internal networks to engage with their colleagues and analyse that data. Citrix is studying the impact of Covid in the digital workspace, which will be released as a study with third-party research firm.” By expanding and machine learning data from staff who have since left, a company could be able to see when current staff start exhibiting similar patterns.

What web 3.0 means for consumer data privacy and innovation

With the mainstream adoption of blockchain technology, cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and the metaverse, we are witnessing the dawn of the web 3.0 era. While web 3.0 is heralded as a better, smarter version of the internet as we know it, it’s also going to require more data to evolve. A lot more.

Touching on matters of data and privacy, Vaswani said, “Of course, there’s the question of how much you know about your consumers. Data is the new oil, it’s what all big businesses are built on these days. How can companies manage that relationship — or tension — between the product, consumer, and data?”

While the cookie-dodgers among us may recoil at the thought of giving up more data, others are more amenable to the idea. Speaking about dentsu’s research into consumer attitudes on data consciousness, Powers emphasised the importance of reciprocity and value exchange. “There are those who see the value of data as a currency that you need to be part of this world, and give it freely. And they’ll go as far as giving medical data, because they know that it could further medical science,” he said.

Powers further noted that companies are already utilising blockchain technology to create smarter solutions that protect privacy.

Menon concurred, saying that the key advantage of web 3.0 would be blockchain’s facilitating of more streamlined and interconnected online experiences while retaining users’ privacy. “One great advance is the blockchain making data more secure, but this does take away from the sustainability agenda if not done right. Our loyalty and promotions business has already seen multiple executions in the metaverse and NFTs being used as rewards and consumer incentives.”

Whether the outcome is innovation, as in this case, or careful diplomacy that balances humanitarian work with stakeholder interests, charting a business’ strategy requires deftness, dynamism, and a keen understanding of current issues.

Throughout all the far-ranging topics discussed, one thread emerges — the importance of trustworthy, impartial journalism and the role it plays in major business decisions. While the exact medium may change, factual, informative news will always factor into strategy, and that will remain true beyond this news cycle.

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