In the midst of a pandemic, it’s not like ad operations can just come to a complete halt—even if ad spend continues its downward spiral. Publishers still have to be prepared for the future, because one day—somewhere in the not-so-far-away future—business will once again ramp up.
For now, cost-cutting strategies have focused on hiring freezes, furloughs, and layoffs, leaving the remaining team members pulled tautly—some already stretched thin by the side effects of their new work from home status, which may include taking care of little ones or elders or even someone with the Coronavirus in the home. It hasn’t been easy for anyone.
Could outsourcing be the most flexible and cost-effective option for managing business continuity during the current crisis?
Granted, outsourcing was severely hit by the pandemic as well. Many offshore teams were also forced to move to work from home situations, facing complex challenges either of a technological or spatial nature in the process. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case for outsourcing provider MediaMint. They recently stress tested a work from home operation with their teams in February, and their anticipation put them in a strong position to help their clients weather the crisis.
I spoke with MediaMint’s President, Jason Riback about his company’s ability to have everyone ready for the new normal, as well as what it means to manage business continuity for ad ops during an international crisis.
Lynne d Johnson: I’ve been reading about how outsourcing operations in India or the Philippines were decimated because they weren’t prepared to have agents work from home. So how is it that MediaMint was able to maintain business continuity amid the Coronavirus upheaval?
Jason Riback: We recognized the potential risk COVID presented and the impact it was having in Asia early on. While we, like many others, did not know a full-blown global pandemic was going to take shape, we started putting a business continuity plan in place to ensure we had an actionable and achievable backup plan. The challenge was to move an 800-person organization to a work-from-home model in a region where it’s not as typical as it is in the U.S. Nearly 30% of our team in India, either didn’t have a home computer, needed a special system set up, or didn’t have proper Wi-Fi. =
For our first test, we moved 40% of our team to a work from home model. We planned to run the test for a week but quickly realized we were going to need to make an immediate shift for all remaining employees as soon as possible. Then, the coronavirus pandemic started accelerating.
We were ahead of the curve and took time to reassess our plan and to swift action. We bought nearly 300 computers and had our IT team check every single home system for connectivity and security. We made it a priority to ensure our people were set up for success in the right way with appropriate backup plans in case they faced future IT-related issues. Within five days of moving to a full WFH model, India went into lockdown. Our teams adjusted and were able to stay focused on the task at hand…helping our clients.
LdJ: I read your blog post, “Maintaining Business Continuity During a Crisis,” where you laid out a framework for managing a crisis. It seems you’ve been able to create a real-life example of this. What did you learn once you had your plan in place?
JR: The sudden shift was definitely dramatic for everyone on the team. We spent a lot of time over-communicating our plan and the urgent need to settle in and focus on supporting clients in the right way. Every day we would follow the Crisis Management Decision Flow, taking time to pause, assess, anticipate, and set our action plan. As we modified priorities each day based on the evolving crisis, we were pleasantly surprised to find that our teams were actually more productive as the lockdown took full effect.
We learned a lot about our people. Over the past few years, we made a considerable investment in professional development. We created a learning and development program with the goal of creating the next set of leaders in the organization. Up until this time, we thought we made some good progress, but we never really knew if it was fully sticking. This event became a forcing mechanism where everyone is now thrust into a new working model and you don’t have direct oversight on everything.
What we are seeing now is real leaders at every level of the organization and across functions really stepping up to deliver for our clients and demonstrate the strength throughout the company. We have empowered everyone to not only get the job done but also make decisions that are aligned with the values of our business. This is where I want to thank every associate, lead, manager, and supporting staff for being selfless, putting the client first, and showing the true character of MediaMint.
LdJ: What are you hearing from your clients or others in the digital media space about how they’re being impacted by the pandemic and economic uncertainty?
JR: We are hearing and directly feeling the deep impact driven by the pandemic across many of our clients. Significant reductions in ad spend, advertiser demand, and reprioritizing initiatives. While the pain varies based on the client and content focus, the resolve is the same, how to put the business in the strongest position to remain sustainable and relevant for the next 12-18 months (maybe even longer).
We have also heard a lot about the challenges people are facing as they deal with the new distractions and limitations of working from home. This can negatively impact people’s attention and capacity. To add to the challenge, many media companies are experiencing significant layoffs and furloughs, putting more responsibility on fewer people at each level.
Providing your teams with the right support is now more critical than ever to:
- Avoid burnout
- Leverage a broad and deep advisor knowledge base
- Provide the ability to respond and scale up quickly
LdJ: So, how have your relationships with clients been reshaped?
JR: Our relationships with clients have remained strong. The impact to many of their businesses and subsequently our business is clearly present. We have received a lot of appreciation for maintaining a stable operation, available resources, and providing flexible terms based on unique needs during this transition. It has really highlighted the strategic value MediaMint brings to each of our partners. The clients we’ve seen weather this in the best way have actually been leaning on MediaMint more heavily in the last couple of weeks for insights, advice, and providing team members with more support. We are taking this time to invest in our clients and in our people to prepare for the recovery.
We are seeing an overwhelming number of clients using this time to double down on process improvements. This past year, at MediaMint, we built out our development group, called TensorGo, that is focused on supporting technical integration projects, building out customized applications, dashboard and reporting systems. These activities will add greater efficiencies and process automation. And there is plenty of work. We’re driving integrations of JIRA, Salesforce, Zendesk, and other platforms. We are examining process flow maps across functions, Cleaning up CRMs. Activities that were often deprioritized because people didn’t want to disrupt the flow during good times.
LdJ: How can you best help your partners come out more stable on the other side of all of this?
JR: I always tell people to focus on your company’s product, strategy, and growth. MediaMint is here to help you handle the execution. MediaMint can be ramped up quickly to help manage daily operations so you can stabilize and sustain the business.
There have and will continue to be tough decisions on resource planning. With current staff being stretched thin, it is important to address any potential points of failure so you can maintain business continuity. In the uncertain times of COVID, having a secondary team ready to ramp up or ramp down in a flexible way as your needs change is a true advantage.
There are three things MediaMint can manage as companies focus on regrowing their business:
- Systems and process design— streamline tools, processes and communications.
- Operations Support—invest now in training. Be prepared to ramp people up within certain functions. As your company begins to reemerge you will have the support and scalability to run the business efficiently.
- Quick response—With a highly talented pool of resources MediaMint can respond quickly so that you’re able to capture the market.
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