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COVID-19: A plan for the crisis How we stay business-as-usual when times are far from it

Overview

The world is going through an unprecedented time, with uncertainty and a changing climate never seen before by this generation. We have a new reality to deal with. COVID-19 has brought the world to a standstill while politicians, health-workers and law-makers work to fight this invisible war and minimize the health, economic and social impact as much as humanly possible.

Our industry is no stranger to disruption and turbulence. But this is different. So what does this mean for us? It’s clear that this once-in-a-generation point in time has the potential to transform our industry - whether that be reimagining where teams work from, managing global accounts without international travel, unified teams and P&Ls cross borders or attending events virtually rather than physically.

And what about marketers? Well, now is the time for them to act with speed and fluidity, but also with careful consideration. Brands have never had such a captive online audience. They have a huge opportunity to show their human side and to connect with their audience in a truly authentic way. And for agencies and their partners, this time is about showing understanding, commitment and reassurance by prioritizing and mobilizing resources and workstreams, aimed at supporting their clients, their people and their businesses.

At MiQ, our people have always been at the core of our business. From the beginning, our guiding principle has been focused on over-delivering for our people who, in turn, over-deliver for our clients. Our goal is to create and maintain a strong global culture where our people learn the most and have the best opportunities in our industry. Never more so has our guiding principle remained so relevant and constant, navigating the Global Leadership Board in the decisions they have made.

So, that’s why we’ve put this guide together. We want to share the processes, practices and protocols we have implemented in the hope that other businesses might find it useful during this time - and to show how we can all come out the other side stronger than ever.

Rebecca Rosborough, Global CMO

Key Plays

This section highlights the key elements to our COVID-19 strategy, and outlines the importance of a global approach, the implementation of our new four part framework and our crisis communication and mitigation overview.

Adoption of Global Unified Plan Through “Project Unity”

Project Unity is the new initiative rolled out to everyone at MiQ. Its sole purpose is to double down on our culture and adopt one unified global plan, P&L and resource pool across all our regions in order to remain stronger for the long term.

“By uniting as one global team, we will come out of this situation, driving long term opportunity”

Gurman Hundal, MiQ Global CEO and Co-founder

Project Unity is built around a four-part framework: Mobilize, Enable, Prepare and Communicate.

Project Unity’s 4 Part Framework

One of MiQ’s core values is “Unity” - we hold each other accountable, we win and lose as a team.

Collaborating, connecting and sharing is how we operate to make sure we continually over-deliver for our clients. As a business, we thrive through meeting face-to-face, having strategic and creative whiteboard sessions, hosting all-hand sessions to share case studies and wins, and travel to and from our Centre of Excellence in Bangalore and other offices around the world - in some cases, taking our clients along with us.

But in a situation where we cannot do this, we’ve new techniques and channels putting more emphasis on the channels we already have that support working in isolation, continuing to unify as a team and continuing to operate with the same level of world-class service, trading and campaign management that our clients are accustomed to.

Part 1: Mobilize

Adapting company policy to support our teams and their safety

The first phase of our framework was based on implementing new and temporary protocols that our people understood. The main themes included:

Working from Home

Like many other businesses, all MiQ’ers around the world have been requested to work from home until further notice. We have worked with local experts and health providers to make sure that local policy has been adhered to. During the pandemic we continue to track and monitor each local situation and will only change this policy once it is safe to do so.

Travel

All travel, domestic and international, has been paused during this time. For any critical travel (e.g. MiQ’ers who need to travel back to their home countries) we work directly with those concerned, making sure safety is the utmost priority.

Using MiQ offices

Our offices remained open while this was still permitted by local governments, but only for critical deliveries. Our official stance remains that no-one should enter our offices without prior permission or until it is safe to do so.

Support for MiQ parents or carers

We recognize that working from home isn’t always an option, so we have provided extra flexibility so as not to interfere with incomes or vacation days.

Part 2: Enable

Providing our people with the tools and frameworks to be world-class at remote working

It’s critical that we continue to deliver for our clients day to day. Remote working will be a big part of all our lives for the short term, so helping our people understand how to look after themselves, keep spirits up and deliver exceptional results, insights and service for our clients has guided this area.

Health and Wellbeing

The health and wellbeing of MiQ’ers is paramount. The team have the opportunity to share ideas, speak up, and support each other through the Mental Wellness Slack channel. There are also learning tips created by our People team which are hosted on the Looop learning management system promoting healthy practices while working from home such as:

  • Setting up your space
  • Movement and posture guides
  • Managing your mental health at home

MiQ’ers have also taken the initiative to set up Slack channels to share fitness tips, healthy eating recipes, and those at home with children can be part of a group dedicated to parents. And managers are encouraged to share best practices and techniques through the Manager Network group on Slack.

Education

MiQ Unlocked, our client educational class-room style programme, is turning virtual and providing an opportunity to take this initiative internally to educate and engage our people. The Unlocked sessions are open to all MiQ’ers and includes a syllabus focused on:

  • Specialist Subjects e.g. Products / Research Papers / Vertical Insights
  • Inclusion and Diversity, Health and Mental Wellbeing
  • Becoming World Class at Remote Working

Virtual Connection

Teams are encouraged to host Zoom and Google Hangout sessions with their video camera switched on to provide an opportunity to connect face-to-face and to take part in ‘Happy Hour’ sessions where our people connect only for social purposes.

To make sure that our people keep connected with our leadership teams, we have created a weekly video series which sees two different members of the Global Leadership Board each week discuss trends, ideas, challenges and share learnings that anyone can log in to watch, or access via our on demand platform on Looop.

Weekly Insight Podcast

To make sure our teams have the latest insight, a weekly external podcast to share deeper insights and trends with the commercial leads in the US, Canada, and UK has been created.

This podcast will be recorded so it can be shared with other internal audiences, and with relevant clients.

Blog Series

We have also created a blog post series that talks about reacting in changing situations, so all employees, and clients can understand their reaction and actions during this pandemic and gain reassurance that this is all part of normal human behavior.

Part 3: Prepare

Making sure we future proof our business

This is about making sure our business is financially secure for every eventuality. We have prepared for several scenarios, the management of investments and costs to provide long term opportunity and stability for our people, making sure we continue to provide innovative solutions for the long term for our clients, and, ultimately, a sustained future for our business.

All the financial decisions we have taken, and will take during this period are focused around the sustained success and growth of the business. We always prioritize investments around our people and this won’t change.

Our ability to pivot quickly is essential, especially when it comes to:

Protection

Provide security for our people that we will not make any redundancies for 6 months, even if the company falls up to 75% below of it's projected revenue and gross profit.

We prioritized non-personnel cost reduction over personnel cost reduction.

Cash and Cost Management

Managing our business conservatively has been a key priority for the MiQ leadership team, enabling us to offer security to our people and clients and to ride out these uncertain times.

We have always been agile in managing our costs to drive or curb investment with demand and our quarterly re-forecasts processes have been a real source of strength for MiQ the last 10 years. However, we can't hide from the uncertain demand in the coming weeks and months, so we incorporated a short-term personnel compensation plan to make sure we can protect our people for the long term by:

  • Guaranteeing no one faces redundancy for the next 6 months
  • Reducing MiQ’ers working week to 4 days from April until October
  • Three tiers of salary reductions based on senior leaders, mid and lower level income employees.
  • Providing opt-in plans for those that circumstances may mean they need more reduced hours or can’t work at all during this period
  • By operating under one global P&L, the ability to upskill our people and pull resource from anywhere in the business to be pointed directly at our client needs

During this time, we feel it is critical that we don’t de-invest in product and technology to make sure we are in a position of strength for the future. Therefore, we have excluded our Bengaluru teams (our data scientists, analysts and engineers) to retain a 5 day working week to focus on completing our short and long-term product and tech roadmaps.

Agility

Even though we plan for the worst case, we will fight as a global team to achieve better results than this. Should we do that, we will have options to start investing back in the business at any time we see fit.

We will also move to managing and approving costs month by month.

Offense

To come out of this period stronger than ever by doubling down on:

Our Culture and Values

Our Product

Our People

The preparation phase is also about looking for new ways to create revenue streams and support our valued clients through this time. To do this, we have created:

TASK FORCE GROUPS

Task forces from board level to teams on the ground have been set up to focus on immediate outcomes. Teams are centered around key initiatives such as:

  • Protecting our business in the short term and preparing us for long term success
  • Salesforce data and reporting
  • Centralizing department strategies
  • Virtual global mobility initiatives

A GLOBAL COMMERCIAL SHARING INITIATIVE

Global commercial teams have initiated their own global sharing groups to collaborate and share strategies in order to continue to support our clients and drive revenue for the business. Global teams come together over cross-regional Hangout / Zoom calls and Slack channels.

4-DAY WORKING WEEK GUIDANCE

To ensure that we mobilize our team to maintain the delivery of exceptional results for clients, we have provided our people with an approach on how to maximize their 4-day week.

Defaulting to trust vs rules

This is the first time MiQ has undertaken this type of initiative and we’re doing so on a mass scale, immediately. To make this a success there will need to be a degree of ‘test and learn'.

We are not opting to set hard and fast rules. We are instead defaulting to trust our people to make the right calls and make the right decisions.

Looking after our people

Our single biggest asset is our people and more than ever, we are encouraging them to look after themselves. We want our people to start taking time for themselves - whether this starts by just a few hours out, or a half day or straight into a full day off.

It’s about finding a rhythm that works best for each individual - this doesn’t mean we are dictating everyone to take one day off from April 1st as we know it will take time to adapt, but we want our people to start giving time back to themselves to spend disconnected from work.

Not everyone is in the same position - different work pressures, juggling family commitments and we are all adapting to the social implications of country wide lockdowns. It is more important than ever to continue being empathetic to our colleagues and support them where they need it the most.

Tactically this means:

Optimising the way we work is key to ensuring we can remain incredibly productive in a 4 day week without burning ourselves out, but ensuring our priority is on servicing and supporting our clients. This includes fewer meetings, shorter meetings and removing noise.

Fewer meetings - we encourage our teams to create meeting-free zones; starting with half day every week.

Shorter meetings - we encourage to default think about shortening meetings where possible. Google calendar has a nifty function to do this by default with 25mins and 50mins suggested time slots.

Removing noise - it is important not to be constantly interrupted by slack, mail and meetings - trying to build in some time in the day where notifications are on snooze to have more time to focus.

Collaboration meetings vs talking meetings - making meetings specific to problem solving versus the feeling of “another hangout”.

Pausing notifications on mobile phones or putting them on flight mode for an hour during the day also helps with focus.

Across Everything: Communicate

Clear, consistent regular communications to our people and our clients

Communication during a time like this is key. We will continue to offer transparent and consistent messaging to our people and our clients to help reassure and motivate them.

The backbone of our corporate communications plan includes:

  • Keeping our internal teams updated with official company directive on a weekly basis
  • Local and regional communications
  • Video fireside chats with our most senior leadership teams
  • Virtual hangout sessions
  • Guidance on how and when to best communicate with team members across the globe
  • Defining all spokespeople, channels and timings of releases so everyone understands what a official communication is and when they should expect to receive it

Furthermore, official company communication is held on an internal microsite dedicated to communication around COVID-19, created so people can access information at all times in one central place.

Crisis Communication & Mitigation

Like most businesses, we have put in place a framework for crisis communication and mitigation during this time. The fundamentals include:

1- Our involvement in PR activities relating to COVID-19

2- A set of proactive issue-mitigation measures

3- An internal escalation protocol to report any media enquiries our staff may receive:

3a-What information our employees should gather if they receive a media enquiry

3b- Who should be made aware of a COVID-19 related media enquiry

4- A process for management of media enquiries by senior marketing leads

Our systems for remote working

The platforms we use for remote working - and how we make sure security is a priority.

As an international business, remote collaboration is in our DNA. Put simply, without collaboration across offices and timezones we can’t do what we do on a daily basis.

That means that in times like this when remote working is a widespread necessity, we already have the tools and systems in place to keep things running smoothly.

In this section, we’ll take a brief look at some of the tools we use for internal communication, as well as the advice we give our people on how to use them. And we’ll look at the ways we make sure everyone is working securely to protect sensitive information and systems outside the office environment.

Working together when we’re not together

Like every business, we already use a host of ways to stay in touch and collaborate on projects remotely. In these times, we’ve never been more reliant on these tools and platforms. But, the key to making this work for everyone is to stipulate what tools we use for what purposes. Here’s the advice we give our people for using different tools to do different things.

SLACK

We use Slack as the universal truth for real time information. This is the go-to place for fast paced short communication and quick answers. The channel function is also great for communication on specific projects and initiatives, as well as for teams and departments to share knowledge and ask for advice. In the last few weeks channels such as #sales_infosharing or #make-lemonade has enabled our teams to feel more connected than ever, sharing challenges, learnings - and even a few jokes.

All of our offices, pods and departments have their own Slack channels, while our #general channel is used for company wide updates.

GMAIL FOR BUSINESS

Email is still the best channel for slower communications. We use it as a one-way push communication, rather than a way to discuss things. It’s best when sharing a lot of information or attachments or communicating with partners, suppliers and clients outside of MiQ.

An important point to remember: sent does not necessarily mean read.

SUITE FOR OFFICE (Google Docs / Sheets / Drive)

When working remotely, switching to Google Docs from Microsoft Office gives us far more ability to collaborate. Google Docs allows for:

Multiple users, so more than one person can work on a doc at the same time

Commenting, so we can make comments or ask questions without having to send an email

Suggest edits, so you can express things in a new way without losing the old way.

VIDEO CONFERENCES

We have two video conferencing options: Google Hangouts Meet and Zoom. We allow our people to choose whichever they prefer, but Zoom has more functionality for recording and presenting. We also use Zoom as our platform for webinars and interactive sessions that need recording.

When we’re using video conferences, we encourage everyone to keep their Video ON, as seeing people’s faces increases engagement and empathy.

ATLASSIAN CLOUD SITE

JIRA is the ticketing system from Atlassian that we use internally for project management. Our client services team also use it as a central location for running all current and upcoming campaigns, so that relevant team members like analysts and traders have access to the information they need, when they need it.

Before our campaigns start, we use JIRA to traffic tags and enter relevant campaign information. Once the campaign is live, it’s used to communicate with analysts for any ad-hoc requests from the client. Post-campaign, it’s used to request data and other materials to put together an insights report.

LOOP

Looop is the learning management system that we use to share training resources. Because we have lots of different teams in lots of different locations, we use Looop to make sure everyone gets the same information in the same way.

On the Looop platform, people can write articles explaining how to use different products or systems within the business, post videos of training sessions, as well as organise quizzes to test knowledge and make sure everyone can get up to speed at their own pace.

During times like this, a tool like Looop means we can continue training initiatives without major disruption, and that people can use downtime to upskill themselves.

Staying secure outside office environments

We take security seriously. We deal with sensitive information on a daily basis, and that means we have to be as secure when we’re working remotely as when we’re in the office.

Our systems and processes are designed with security in mind, and we’re constantly reviewing and updating them to stay ahead of the curve, as well as educating and training MiQ employees to make sure they know all our security best practices.

Security features

  • All of the cloud systems and apps that we use, for instance, Google Cloud, sit behind an authentication layer and the majority are integrated with Okta, an access management platform.
  • All proprietary MiQ apps and services, used by our people or clients, need multi-factor authentication (MFA) for access.
  • We have a virtual private network (VPN) set-up for accessing our cloud infrastructure, which sits behind an MFA layer.
  • We whitelist the IP addresses that can access our cloud firewalls to prevent anyone outside our VPN from accessing them.
  • Any cloud infrastructure that stores proprietary apps and client data is only accessible via VPN with centralized accounts and MFA.
  • Our corporate data is protected via data-loss prevention (DLP) software on our cloud infrastructure.
  • All employee laptops have centralized end-point protection with encryption enabled for end-users.
  • We conduct daily security compliance audits on our cloud infrastructure.
  • All passwords on our devices must be strong and changed regularly in compliance with our password rotation policy.
  • We hold mandatory security awareness training and refresher courses for all employees periodically, as well as continuous security learning via our e-learning platform.

Our security checklist

This is our security checklist for all MiQ employees to make sure we keep security as a number one priority.

1) Keep work on work devices - Only use MiQ-issued laptops for work activities. Don't log into accounts or applications on home or public computers, or other devices. Never download files, data or documents to home computers or devices.

2) Use two-step verification - All MiQ accounts and log-ins require two-step verification linked to a Google Authenticator or an SMS linked to a unique mobile device.

3) Avoid public wifi - Make sure your home wifi is password-protected and avoid public wifi. If you need to access wifi away from your home network, use a personal hotspot. For employees handling sensitive information, we strongly recommend using a VPN.

4) Be mindful of your surroundings - Avoid leaving laptops unlocked or screens open when you aren't working. Avoid taking calls or video conferences in public spaces.

5) Always log out - When you’re finished in applications or programs, be sure to log out. Don't leave accounts open or logged in when you aren't working on them. Pay attention when switching between work and personal email accounts, google drive, etc.

6) Be wary of phishing attempts - If you receive a suspicious email or WhatsApp message, don't click a link or download files. Be mindful that phishing emails can look like they are coming from co-workers, clients or vendors. If you receive an email that is out of the ordinary, reach out to the company, employee or client via another channel (slack or phone) to confirm the request.

COMING OUT STRONGER THAN EVER

The test of a business, like the test of a person, is not how it behaves in the good times. It’s how it rises to the challenge when times are tough.

And these are, unmistakably, the toughest of times.

Our business, like other businesses, will face difficult months ahead, with difficult decisions to be made and difficult conversations to be had.

But we will survive it.

And, in fact, we’ll do more than survive. There’s a belief that permeates MiQ, from top to bottom, that we will come through this current crisis stronger than ever.

A lot of this document is to do with plans and processes, tools and techniques, the things we do to keep our business going in times of trouble. And they’re all really important. They provide the structure and certainty our people need to continue doing their jobs to the best of their ability.

But the reason MiQ will come through this stronger than ever comes down to something that goes beyond business strategies and conferencing tools. It comes down to a single word.

Trust.

We are a business built on trust, and it’s times like this when that trust gets paid back many times over. We’ve always prided ourselves on encouraging our people to be autonomous, to think for themselves, to come up with ideas and have the courage to put them into practice.

It’s a way of working that isn’t always easy. For the people in our business, it requires guts to stick their hand up and say, “I’ve got a new idea - let’s try it”, particularly as not every idea will work out.

And it means the leaders in our business have to be always open to new ways of doing things, encouraging people to try things and learn and grow, when it would be easier to just stick with what we know.

But in times like this, when sticking with what we know isn’t an option for anyone, it’s a way of working that means we’re ready for anything. That means we can keep innovating, keep thinking up new ways to succeed, and keep being the programmatic media partner our clients need us to be.

To give just a small example of this spirit in action, within minutes of the announcement that we would all be working from home across our global offices, our regional head of trading and client services Nick Hill created a new channel on Slack called #Make-lemonade.

#Make-lemonade has quickly become a space where people across our business are sharing new ideas for how we can respond to the current situation. Every day people are sharing insights and trends to adapt campaigns, sharing learnings from one market that can be used to help clients in another region, and sharing ideas for keeping spirits up and keeping teams engaged.

It’s just one example of the kind of thinking that springs organically from MiQ, regardless of central initiatives and direction from the board. And it’s why we all have confidence that we’ll get through difficult times and emerge stronger.

As a business, we have a relentless focus on delivering for our clients, getting things done, and staying at the forefront of programmatic media innovation.

We have the processes and tools we need to keep doing that through this crisis. But, more importantly, we have the determination, courage and spirit to keep going when times are tough, in the knowledge that things will get better - and we’ll be ready to enjoy them when they do.