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Financial literacy: How I turned COVID-19 deadly blows into opportunity

 Joanne Mwangi, PMS Group founder and marketing director 

COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact in the global socio-economic space. Kenyan business and corporate leaders have had to review business strategies to stay afloat. These strategies include cutting advertising and public relations budgets.

The advertising and public relations space has been among the worst hit.

COVID-19 has seen budgets slashed causing an unprecedented crisis in the sector, with spending on communications being among the first casualties.

Most agencies have seen their revenues plateau while others have had to downsize or close.

“Most companies decided to put their marketing budgets on ice. Interventions were put on hold as companies adopted the wait and see approach,” said Joanne Mwangi, the Professional Marketing Services (PMS) founder and Group Managing Director.

She said brands started re-thinking their marketing communications strategies in a bid to survive under the new normal.

Agencies found themselves suffocated and forced to undertake major realignments. 

Just like other chief executives in the communications industry, Mwangi was faced with a wicked problem. While she had to juggle a million variables, she opted to try to avoid downsizing and at the same time retail high level of service delivery.

The human challenge of ensuring her over 1,000 staff maintained their livelihoods was a headache calling for unusual solutions.

She narrated that to hit the high notes during the turbulence, PMS converted the problem to an opportunity by changing its business model. PMS first recognised that it had to thrive in the new normal and adopted a two-pronged strategy.

First to differentiate services, and second to develop new markets, particularly in the region where the agency offered services to its Kenyan clients with a Pan African footprint.

Mwangi said this was how PMS started treating clients as business partners by putting on their clients’ shoes through application of design thinking methodology and getting intimate with client products and processes.

This move included differentiating its service, developing new products and adopting new technologies.

The new model was implemented by internal restructuring and review of human capital policy. PMS was among the few agencies that employed during the pandemic.

The agency developed an app to automate business, making it easier to continue with quality service delivery but also fast, transparent and consistent.

Through this and other modalities, PMS assisted its partners understand the impact of the crisis by working with brands under the new normal. This was the only way for brands to stand out of the din. The mantra, ‘never waste a crisis’ became a clarion call to focus on the opportunities created.

“While not tangible, trust is the most valuable asset any organisation has. We used our three independent subsidiaries in marketing and communication, design and production, marketing intelligence to assist brands to grow and build trust within key stakeholders besides keeping brands relevant during the crisis,” said Mwangi.

“We also assisted partners to develop internal communications strategies to support remote working. Internal communications is key in assisting partners manage their human capital expectations. Staff have to read from the same script under normal circumstances, this got complicated during remote working. We assisted partners develop new normal capacities.”

“Being a strategic partner is what has made us survive the turbulence. We are no longer advisors but strategic partners with long term and intimate interest in our partners business.”

The second pillar was to accelerate PMS pan African presence in order to serve Kenyan clients across Africa and offer advisory support to clients coming to Kenya. This move gave PMS both the expanded scope and capacity to onboard a variety of new clients.

As an outcome of PMS capacity to serve clients across Africa as well as international companies coming to Kenya, global players such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Hivos Group joined her portfolio.

The group uses research to develop and execute market penetration strategies. Joanne reiterates the need to employ their monitoring and evaluation tools as you cannot improve unless you measure.

To position as the leading pan African communication agency, PMS has signed partnership agreements with agencies in specialised sectors in target countries.

“Clients will always reward agencies offering real value with or without the Covid-19 turbulence,’’ said Mwangi.

The shift to remote satellite and partner offices has been a great boost by bringing the cost of doing business down with clients paying for real work done and not for high overheads. PMS has presence in 24 countries in Africa.

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