Getting creative about business after Covid-19
Speaking at the third of four Henley Business School webinars hosted by Alec Hogg during the Lockdown, looking at life after lockdown, Preetesh Sewraj, the recently appointed chief executive of the Loeries, said moving the Loeries and changing their focus had been the best thing to do - especially since every other international awards ceremony had been cancelled.
“We had two options. We could postpone the event that is the pinnacle of many African and Middle East creatives’ careers in advertising until 2021 or we should reschedule it for later in the year by considering a far more innovative approach.”
As something that will be the first major event after lockdown is eventually lifted, this year’s Loeries will be a week-long event, said Sewraj, that is about dealing with the challenges that lie ahead as well as recognising and rewarding excellence.
“There wasn’t a playbook about the coronavirus so we wanted to bring all these great thought leaders together and inspire the industry.”
It’s also the reason the Loeries committee decided to waive entry fees this year, encouraging an industry battling like the rest of the country from the associated effects of Covid-19.
Other businesses have also been forced to innovate during this time; some will thrive, but others - especially those based on face-to-face interaction, will struggle, said Henley Africa dean and director Jon Foster-Pedley.
“The question is, how do we transition? It will be fascinating as we discover capabilities online to do just that.”
As Sewraj pointed out, the tools to allow the current working from home situation had been in place since the 1980s. The stumbling block had been that managers and executives had not trusted staff to be able to work without supervision. The Covid-19 pandemic had changed all of that.
“When we say something is impossible,” said Foster-Pedley, “is often only about own frame of reference.”
Hogg agreed, citing Larry Page of Google, who had prophesied that people would eventually migrate from the city centre-based businesses to outlying areas with better internet connectivity, but that it had taken a crisis like Covid-19 to break the inertia.
Capitec bank, he said was another example of institutions innovating at speed to keep jobs and keep functioning while the economy was shuttered, opting to keep slightly more than half of its 843 branches open for clients during the lockdown.
“Gerrie Fourie, the CEO, turned 400 branches into call centres allowing thousands of staff to work from home.”
In the process, said Hogg, the bank had saved jobs by pivoting the business into call centres for clients, while saving money on rent by no longer having to operate 400 branches.
Foster-Pedley said the key to this was to encourage creativity and to stop stigmatising it.
“Discovery is one of the most creative insurance and health schemes in the world, and it was set up by four actuaries - which is one of the biggest paradoxes imaginable - but the truth is the success of the future world is one that is both rational and imaginative to make sure the ideas become reality.”
For Sewraj, it’s precisely that kind of thinking that is guiding the preparation for the hosting of this year’s Loeries.
The success of technology and its ability to capture and convey emotion, coupled to the use of creative thinking to analyse problems and come up with forward-thinking solutions, had led to the seamless success of someone like Trevor Noah broadcasting to the world every night from the lounge of his New York apartment.
“We are planning for every possible scenario at a time when you can’t even predict what will happen next Monday, let alone next month, much less next year. The Loeries will be the same inspirational event to be able to meet colleagues and international influencers and celebrate excellence, but if for some reason we are still in lockdown or under other restrictions we will hold them online if we have to.”