Joyce Tawil: 'The world will be different but still the same'
Posted on 2020 Jun,29

Joyce Tahan Tawil, Head of Trading, GroupM Lebanon, shares her outlook on the situation post-covid-19, as she identifies and elaborates on the shifts she foresees taking place.

In Lebanon, before the Covid-19 pandemic, the economy was in dire straits and the corona outbreak came on top of the economic collapse to shutter businesses across the country.

Sectors such as Horeca, nightlife, car rental, airlines… suffered the most from Covid-19, but with the Lebanese pound losing a third of its official value on the black market as dollars have dried up, a devaluation has loomed large affecting all kind of businesses from FMCGs to luxury products where distributors couldn’t afford anymore to import even the basic products or raw material.

As a result, lots of clients stopped advertising as their main concern was to secure the dollars to import the products in the first place.
If 2019 witnessed a 40% drop in real ad market size over the previous year, 2020 is expected to be even worse.

On the media front, we have seen the closure of lots of media and outdoor suffered the most because of the lockdown.

As for Covid-19 pandemic, it forced us to rethink the way we work, with technology playing a huge role in that transformation.

In few words, after Coronavirus, the world will be different but still the same. Mindshare, in their first ever virtual global huddle, the day’s theme was all about how in the middle of the practical stresses of lockdown, we are seeing seeded the attitudes and behaviors that will lead to the ‘new normal’. 

We need to foster a culture of preparedness to live differently in the same world:

    •    On the operation side, globally, we were forced to develop an agile operating model and embrace the reality of remote work. At GroupM, meetings, presentations, day to day work were business as usual carried remotely. Post corona, human interaction will stay somehow minimal as long as we stay connected.
    •    On the personnel level, this shift has called for a substantial investment in workforce engagement and training in new skills, using digital tools. Even children were introduced fast to the tele-education. At GroupM, beside the professional program that was put in place, special efforts were made through physical and mental programs aiming to keep the employees motivated to adapt to this new work lifestyle.

    •    We need to rethink customer journeys. Jack Ma the co-founder of Alibaba said, “the boundary between offline and online commerce disappears as we focus on fulfilling the personalized needs of each customer”. With Covid-19, we have seen e-commerce picking up at full speed. The lockdown brought to the scene a new breed of online shoppers, people who have never experienced e-comm before were able to complete everything they need to do online, from initial research and purchase to service and returns.
    •    Clients across industries, need to establish new digital distribution models, creating “contactless” experience where health and safety remain essential... We have seen different brands like BMW and Louis Vuitton creating great experiences by participating to virtual communities using livestreaming to introduce consumers to models, interiors and experience of test drives (BMW) and promoting the brand (LV).
    •    The shopping behavior must be taken into consideration as it has changed. At first, it was “panic buying”; people responded by stocking up medical supplies like hand sanitizer and masks and household essentials like toilet paper and bread. But then they moved into “calculated buying”, changing what they are buying, when, and how, focusing on the basic needs.
    •    Digital in general and streaming in specific witnessed a huge growth. People are homebound and no longer pursuing external entertainment options that there is an increase in digital streaming services among all age brackets. This will surely create an opportunity to our clients. TV viewership tremendously grew compared to same period previous years and is not expected to drop as long as the safety measures are respected.
    •    Lebanon has always depended on imports (80-85% of its food needs).

The coronavirus, causing disruptions in international trade with ports and airports closed, made the situation -that is already made fragile by the financial crisis- even worse. That came to our advantage, as we have seen local brands introduced to the market and competing with the multinationals on the quality-price ratio. But this will affect the business of the Lebanese distributors of international products.
If it was only the Coronavirus, life in Lebanon would have been much easier, as we adapt easily and quickly to changes. And even if Lebanon needs a $20-$25 billion bailout to emerge from its financial crisis, we know how to make it through tough times. Our industry is very mature and appreciative of the impact of advertising and that alone will speed on industry recovery. Add to it, the quality of people this industry employs, and their level of creativity will also speed on that recover. After all advertisement is more needed in bad times.