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A Covid U-Turn

London Sock Co.'s co-founder on lessons he learned from the second wave

When London Sock Co, the stylish sock label, had their latest campaign plans scuppered by the second wave, they had some big and difficult decisions to make. Here, co-founder Ryan Palmer shares the valuable lessons he learnt as every marketer’s worst nightmare played out.

 

We were in post-production for our new Autumn/Winter20 campaign. After a difficult year for everyone we wanted to feature the idiosyncrasies we’ve developed in lockdown. We encouraged people to proudly maintain them in the #newnormal and acknowledge them as expressions of individuality – just like socks. But Covid had other ideas and, as cases began to rise, more and more parts of the country were put under ever more stringent lockdown measures.

So, what to do when your campaign’s message is no longer relevant? When it is all ready to go, it looks great, and – a key point for a small business like us – it cost a decent chunk of money?

Make some big decisions, is the answer.  And act on them very quickly.

Lesson number 1: Go with your gut

Through this whole process I learned that in times of heightened emotion like this you have to trust your instincts. While the path of least resistance may be to keep going with the original plan, you can't be afraid of the difficult decisions. Stop. Listen to your gut. Re-evaluate. And take a new path.

How you communicate as a brand is crucial, but listening is always just as important. Lockdown, and the stresses of the past eight months, has certainly made this even more integral for every business, regardless of size. Understanding the shifting needs and values of your customers – now more than ever – is the only way to survive as a business.

But, on a personal level, try not to panic when external forces outside your control mean you need to make a last minute u-turn. Every challenge is surmountable, it just requires a little creativity.

Lesson number 2: Don’t be a control freak

In situations like this it’s imperative that all partners pull together and work towards a common goal. It wasn’t just my co-founder Dave and I who were impacted by the decision to scrap the old campaign and start again – it required a supersonic effort from our creative agency, Wax/On, to drop everything and go back to the drawing board. In just two weeks we had a completely new strategy, a new creative campaign and a re-shoot in the bag. Collectively, we did a complete 180, developing an entirely new campaign that still honoured the essence of the original but with a more cautiously optimistic tone.

When time is of the essence the key is not to be precious about the process. Now is not the time for micromanaging and overanalysing – let each person in the project do what they do best. We knew we were in safe hands with our creative director, Ben Hooper, so once we knew the direction in which we were heading, we left him to it. As a small company it’s easier to delegate but it certainly helps if you’re not a control freak to start with.

Lesson number 3: Move fast and be decisive

You’ll notice I have avoided that much overused word 'agility', but that’s essentially what it amounts to. There was no time for laborious boardroom discussions and endless pros and cons conversations. Let’s be honest, ultimately this was not a life or death situation.

So if you are trusting your instincts and everyone is on board, you know what needs to be done. The trick is setting the changes in motion quickly, removing any barriers that will hold it up, and trusting that great work isn’t dependent on a long lead time.

Lesson number 4: Call in favours

You know that network of talented people you have built? The well-connected friends, those who maybe owe you one, the ones you’ve resisted tapping up before… Well, it's time to pick up the phone. Get out the little black book and see who might be able to help you in your hour of need. We were fortunate that a fan and friend of the brand just happens to be a primetime TV actor and the perfect face for our product (if a sock company requires a face) so when we shifted our strategy from OOH to TV, he was just the man to call.

Be it a prime shoot location, a coveted last-minute media spot or a bit of pro bono art direction, now is the time to know who your friends are. (Ben is still coming to terms with the star of our original OOH campaign, his dog, Annie, no longer featuring in our work, but there’s always next time.)

We’ve always been a close team, but the past few months have brought us closer, including to the partners we work with. While I wouldn’t have wished for this scenario, I have no doubt it has been a priceless experience. We’ve learned some valuable lessons and, I think, have grown as a business. At the end of a relentlessly challenging year, against all the odds, we have a positive story to tell.

Successful business is all about taking risks, and when they backfire it will be your response to that stumbling block that defines the future.

Be brave, be decisive and be confident. And wear great socks.