The reality is however that we tend to overestimate just how much consumer habits will change after any given crisis, presuming that what has shifted now will stick. As Winterbourne says, the true impact of the COVID crisis, “will depend on how long this goes on and to be honest, how hard the recession hits.”
What we have seen more of is people leaning to support their local communities, shopping at the end of their street or in their village over ordering off faceless marketplaces. “Local community is more important as we worry about what’s going on, on our own doorstep rather than global events,” Winterbourne explains.
She is intrigued to see what impact this move to community spirit will have on people’s buying behaviour: “Are they going to buy brands that have community credentials on purpose? People might shop with a smaller repertoire of brands. They might look more to familiarity and safe brands.” It’s something that the agency is exploring in more depth through a research-piece on post-COVID consumer behaviour.
But, as Winterbourne explains realistically, “When you’re in the middle of something you think everything might be different. Will things slip back? I haven’t got a crystal ball so I can’t tell you that.”
A different structure moving forwards
While she doesn’t want to comment on the long-term impacts, believing that it’s simply too early to do so, Winterbourne does praise the power of technology which has allowed the agency, and industry, to work as well as it ever has. “Who’d have thought you’d be able to prepare for and deliver a pitch over Zoom?” she says, also noting that the virtual pitch processes are proving to be of great benefit to agencies as the lighter processes have reduced costs for agencies.
This technology has also lent itself to the shift more broadly in improving working practices to suit everyone, something that, as a working mum of two young children, Winterbourne is passionate about. She has been surprised, she says, on how behind both the UK and the creative industries are when it comes to flexible working policies. “We talk about it [but] we’ve never quite managed it,” she adds.
Within Impero, the agency has been steadily rolling out more flexible working, pushing work patterns that suit the individual needs of the staff. She notes that, “agencies are going to have to become more flexible because talent will be making decisions based on that. To attract talent, it’s going to have to be one of the things you offer.” Winterbourne acknowledges the fortune, in this case, of being a smaller, “agile agency so we can work with everybody to make sure it’s working for them. We can be flexible to make sure they’ve got what they need.”
She hopes that there will be an industry-wide shift taking place towards more flexible ways of working as the crisis has proved everybody who disparaged flexible working, wrong. Previous ways of working simply won’t be accepted by future talent. The presenteeism that has been so ingrained into this industry for years is slowly being dismantled by this crisis, something that Winterbourne says she is only supportive of.