Planning any journey needs a route map and none more so than the crucial and sensitive emergence of UK business from the lockdown.
As they go back to work companies will face immense scrutiny from customers, employees, suppliers, investors and the media not just on their plans for the future but onhow they behaved during the lockdown.
Our client, Marshall Motor Holdings Plc, one of the UK’s largest motor retailers, was keenly aware of these issues as it prepared to re-open its 117 sites on 1 June 2020.
Along with many UK companies, Marshall has faced the huge challenge of temporarily closing nearly all of its businesses and as a result had to furlough the majority of its 4,300 staff. Nevertheless, from the start the company was focused on maintaining a regular dialogue both with its customers and employees. Throughout the lockdown its online and phoneline presence remained open to manage customer enquiries and as a result it took advanced orders for more than 3,700 new and used vehicles both from retail and fleet customers.
At the same time, the company constantly engaged in a variety of imaginative and interesting ways with its staff, centred on the newly established ‘Stay Marshall Colleague Hub’. Core elements of the hub were focussed on financial, social, mental and physical health. The site encouraged colleagues to share their experiences, new hobbies as well as ways of avoiding cabin fever. Perhaps a highlight was the ‘We’re Coming Back’ video featuring two senior directors of Marshall performing an alternative version of ‘Football’s Coming Home’, which went viral and was picked up by national media.
The hub also offered bi-weekly senior management briefings with updates on the actions the company had been taking during the closure period. In particular, during this time not only were furloughed staff encouraged to continue their training programmes via the company’s online learning platform but also to complete a mandatory training and assessment programme on revised operating procedures and social distancing guidelines before returning to the workplace. Similarly, the company had worked for a number of weeks on a broader and detailed reactivation plan. This was important as it had no idea of how much warning it would be given before being allowed to re-open.
Indeed, on 25 May Boris Johnson announced that car dealerships could re-open seven days later on 1 June. Despite the tight deadline everything needed was developed – from a detailed trading and Covid-19 update for the London Stock Exchange to media engagement materials ahead of its opening.
In addition, Marshall identified a number of its sites which could showcase the new look social distancing measures for those journalists interested in visiting. It also considered the logistics of the likely media requests and agreed in advance how senior management should share the load of responding to enquiries.
As a result, come 1 June Marshall was well positioned to highlight to the media that its 117 sites were ready for business, in a safe and attractive environment. During the day the company conducted interviews with the national print and broadcast media, both on site and via zoom, as well as interviews with the trade and local media. In addition, a broad range of images and news angles were offered, with a number of social media photos of staff at sites being used by the media.
This activity resulted in overwhelmingly positive media coverage which reflected the key messages Marshall was promoting. The route plan meant Marshall had confidence for the start and the rest of its important journey.
Driving the narrative as we emerge from lockdown