BITE Focus

Hitting the right tone: How brands can capitalise on the power of community and creativity in the midst of the coronavirus crisis

With the challenges of the ongoing crisis come new opportunities for brands to creatively connect, as Jo McCrostie, Creative Director at Global explored at BITE LIVE 2020.


This year has brought with it a myriad of challenges for brands, media owners and agencies alike. But these challenges have also come hand in hand with new opportunities to connect and be creative. From new media moments in consumers' days, to the growing importance of feeling part of local communities, opportunities to connect abound.  

But knowing how to hit the right tone with consumers in the midst of a global pandemic and extended lockdown is no mean feat. 

In a wide-reaching and insightful conversation at BITE LIVE 2020, Nicola Kemp, Editorial Director of Creativebrief was joined by Jo McCrostie Creative Director at Global to explore how brands can lean on the power of community, connectivity and creativity to drive long-term meaningful connections with consumers. 

The power of connecting through audio mediums has perhaps never been more vital, as demonstrated by Global’s listening figures, mirroring trends seen during other regional and national disasters; 26% of us now listen to more than ever before and 50% of people who are working from home have adopted a new behavior of listening in the daytime.

This has been radio’s greatest strength throughout the crisis, its ability to connect with communities.

Jo McCrostie

Moments of connection

As consumers were turning to the radio for much of their information during lockdown, McCrostie explained how Global shifted its programming strategy and tone to include more news bulletins and other specialist phone-in segments. These included phone ins with Dr Alex from Love Island, in which he advised callers about their symptoms. While Dr Raj  offered parents advice about how to talk to their children about the virus.

Every part of the organisation’s programming and advertising, McCrostie explained, was “all responding to the needs of the community.”

Alongside the importance of conveying vital information, McCrostie believes in audio’s power to entertain and to offer, “comforting moments of distraction.” She cautions against seeing the role as one of reassurance however and instead says it is essential that brands find the right tone. Because, she adds, “it’s really important to carefully judge and mirror and reflect what consumers want and what community needs.”

“[As] our positivity and resilience is a bit dented..a little bit of distraction and entertainment can go a long way for people seeking comfort,” she explains. This included a rewritten version of the Kaiser Chiefs song, with  the new lyrics ‘oh my god I can’t believe, I’ve never spent this much time at home’, which was recorded by the band’s lead singer and shared on social media. While RadioX and Barclaycard successfully brought live music back by streaming a gig from the band Nothing But Thieves to experience-starved consumers. 

These events provide the moments of connection that consumers have been so keenly missing and so clearly craving. “This has been radio’s greatest strength throughout the crisis,” explains McCrostie, “its ability to connect with communities.”

New opportunities for brands

McCrostie explained how brand behaviour has shifted in the second stage of lockdown. While the first lockdown was focused on delivering information, the second has been more focused on a need to help out in one way or another.

“The tone, which is always hard to read,” says McCrostie, “has moved from a state of how are we going to cope, to how we are going to cope. It’s about being together in our communities.” She believes this shift has been reflected most acutely in much of this year’s Christmas advertising.

In the first 100 days of the first lockdown, Global saw over 25 new brands coming onto air and advertising, demonstrating just how keenly audio’s reach was felt. “The fact that people’s behaviours and they’re routines are having to change, this is providing new opportunities for brands,” says McCrostie. Whether that’s working from home or people leaning towards more treat moments, brands are finding new instances of connection. 

McCrostie pointed to its award winning work for the charity Versus Arthritis, a campaign which was in the works before the pandemic hit. As the country shut down, McCrostie explains that her team, “just had to go into overdrive.” Home studios were established, garages and cupboards sound proofed simply because, says McCrostie, “there was such a demand from advertisers to get their messages out to consumers in a speedy and agile way in a medium which radio could afford.”

Over 190 different pieces of audio content were delivered but it's the campaign’s results that McCrostie is most proud of. There was a 40% recall amongst radio audiences with 79% of them now saying they would now take some form of action about arthritis. “This work helps supporters of Versus Arthritis have the conversations they needed to have,” she adds.

Creativity comes out of going down a route no one’s been down before. Find the courage to enjoy the journey.

Jo McCrostie

Working with the obstacles

For McCrostie, she has seen her team’s creative output only thrive under lockdown. This supports her belief in the power of obstacles when it comes to producing brilliant creative work. “If you’re working with an obstacle you’re forcing a far better level of creativity,” she explains.

One such obstruction was the cancellation of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, an event which McCrostie would usually take her entire team to, to try out new ideas, meet new creatives and experiment with new concepts. This year, they were determined to still push their creative boundaries so they took it all online, working on nine briefs from Mars to produce work that, McCrostie says, was one of the highlights of her year.

It is clear to see that McCrostie subscribes to the belief that creativity thrives under constraint. She offers her advice to fellow creatives: “have the courage to play with ideas. Creativity comes out of going down a route no one’s been down before. Find the courage to enjoy the journey. There could be a lot to discover and a lot to explore. Creativity is the playful pursuit of what might be possible.”

She closes with some sage advice from Paul Klee: “Take a line for a walk, see what happens, have fun with it.” Through her work at Global, McCrostie demonstrates the power of creative audio to connect with communities during the ongoing crisis.


Jo McCrostie was speaking at BITE LIVE 2020. To watch the full conversation, visit the dedicated event page, Hitting the right tone