As we march our way out of the pandemic

Currently, we live in quite an erratic world, where “unpredictable” is the new “go-to” word for every situation. Recently, we sat with Marian Salzman, a highly recognized communications expert, the trend-spotter and the senior vice-president of global communications at Philip Morris International to discuss and to try to outline the steps that the humanity and the businesses should take to pop up onto the surface of the water when this flood is over and to do it with dignity and compassion towards their stakeholders.

Text: Arshak Tovmasyan

Photos: Philip Morris International


Predicting the future in the times of a pandemic

At this moment, we are standing at the crossing of a new world that might soon become a reality as the pandemic slowly withdraws. Several countries try to return to normal life, meanwhile other countries still continue the struggle with stopping the spread of the virus with around 10 million cases of coronavirus infections in the world. Despite the future perspectives, businesses and various communities on all the continents try to come up with strategies and plans in order to overcome the crisis and ensure the well-being of their employees and communities. The problem here is that no one knows what will happen next. Many scientists claim that the virus will have a new wave, which means the situation might worsen, and it might be extremely hard to return to normal life in the future not only financially and physically but also psychologically.

Certainly, the situation with the global pandemic caught people off-guard, and from now on, as Mrs. Salzman mentioned, life on earth will be divided into “before COVID -19” and “post -COVID -19” or “PC19” eras. New norms will emerge and lead to numerous social and cultural changes. But the main question remains whether or not we will be able to predict the future. Mrs. Salzman pushes forward several possibilities saying “There is a promise that, for all its devastation, this global pandemic may serve as a sort of reset - shepherding towards a new era marked by the new 4 Cs: Compassion, Camaraderie, Civility, and Community.”


The “social” distancing

In Mrs. Salzman’s opinion, this separation from the outside world and other countries and cultures might, unfortunately, lead to a lack of socialization on global levels. However, it’s already visible that the digitalization of the world has taken over the lead and the social distancing has become unexpectedly “social” at least for families and friends.

People virtually get together to drink some wine, play games, celebrate birthdays, weddings, and other important life events. The amount of downloads of different communication platforms has drastically increased in the previous months. We, too, conducted the interview with Mrs. Salzman via Zoom conference, following all the safety measures. The  role of internet has become crucial for everyone as it’s a substitute for  workplace, schools, doctor’s appointments, and sports. Different media channels also experience fantastic increases in user numbers. For instance, Netflix added 15 million subscribers in the first quarter of 2020, meanwhile acknowledging that the organic growth in the post-pandemic period might significantly decrease. In Mrs. Salzman’s opinion, e-Commerce, remote learning and online dating will reach their momentum in the post-pandemic world. Her friend and colleague Aaron Sherinian and his son have launched Quarantine Academy (QA), which enables around 300 people to simultaneously Zoom in and learn about various topics from different experts.

Mrs. Salzman herself has always dreamed of being able to carry her work in her laptop one day and perform her job from any place in the world. Mrs. Salzman indicated that “Previously, we had around 8-hour work-day starting from 8 or 9  AM to around 7PM”., “Today, we have 24 hours a day and we can decide how to do our work and at what time of the day. As a communicator, it feels very empowering”, she adds. Philip Morris International recently conducted a poll among its employees of whom 75% indicated that they enjoy working remotely. They want to show up at the offices, socialize, attend relevant meetings but not show up with the sunrise and return home after the sunset. One of the shortcomings of the pandemic is the situation with parents who have kids, or employees who don’t have the appropriate equipment at home.


Acts of kindness is the new “normal”.

Another positive “advantage” of the pandemic, according to Mrs. Salzman, is the fact that the acts of kindness are no longer a rarity in many areas: neighbors helping each other, communities supporting local small businesses, and larger corporations serving as dignified examples for helping and sustaining their employees. Celebrities and influencers share their knowledge and experience via social media lives and Zoom broadcasts. Additionally, the current state of things illustrated the importance of female leaders in our society as the countries that are already turning the page to the post- pandemic period are led by women. In the beginning of June, the 39-year-old prime-minister of New Zealand, Jasinda Ardern, announced that the lockdown they put in March can end now because they have already overcome the coronavirus wave. Another example is Germany - led by Chancellor Angela Merkel - which has significantly lower death rates than Italy, France, Spain and Britain. The female president of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen managed to introduce one of the most successful cases of containing the virus without full national lockdown.


The heroes of the pandemic

Mrs. Salzman’s main advice to the brands is to get into practice. Step up instead of speaking up. At the beginning of the pandemic, many companies came up with various announcements, however, very few of them put those words into action. “We want to see you behaving in ways that show you’re concerned about protecting your employees and communities from the pandemic and the economic tsunami it’s generating,” says Mrs. Salzman. There are many ways in which companies can show their full involvement starting from supporting small businesses ending with helping those in need. The key is to vividly illustrate their presence. “While building the stability of the brand you should  be flexible with the people you care about - your employees,” says Mrs. Salzman.

Mrs. Salzman outlines several directions those companies might take. To start, companies should put people first and protect them, i.e., the possibility of remote work and ensuring all necessary medical measures can be one of those examples. Her next motto for companies is “to be the business we need you to be”, bringing the example of LVMH which proved itself to be a compassionate business leader by converting three of their perfume manufacturing facilities to make hand sanitizer long before other brands began thinking of taking such steps. Another option she suggests is helping those who can help the rest of the world. Namely, if the business’s profile doesn’t coincide with the needs emerged by the crisis, they can provide resources to those companies (for example, hospitals or companies that produce medication and vaccines) whose activities are relevant to this particular situation.


PMI experience

The global lockdown had a huge negative impact from an economic perspective. The closure of factories and offices, various restrictions on economic activities as well as traveling adversely affected  businesses in general worldwide. But many companies, and Philip Morris International in particular, took the responsibility of making the best out of the situation and moving forward despite the obstacles. For example, since the first day of the outbreak, Philip Morris International has come up with various community initiatives in more than 60 countries where their employees live and work. The company also actively worked not only on supporting the physical and mental security of its employees all over the world and ensuring a full paycheck for each of them but also offering facilities for the production of face shields, masks, and sanitizers. The company did so while also supporting crisis response teams and delivering all the first-aid products to at-risk communities, as well as donating various equipment to be used in this battle. The company addressed all relevant communities and asked how and in what ways it could reach out and assist them. For some communities it was money for food, for others – it was respirators.

“From communication efficiency perspective, PMI overdid its 5-year digital plan in just five days. Every employee was set up and well-equipped in their homes and it felt like opening up 4000 new offices,” says Mrs. Salzman. I think the past two months showed that if you do your work well, it doesn’t matter where your office is located. Now your office is your screen.”

Mrs. Salzman believes that the current moment is the best time for the brands to show why they are here. “Think: Action over words. Think: People over short-term profits․ Think: Vision over self-interest,” says Mrs. Salzman.

When asked about her opinion as a trend-spotter concerning the most interesting marketing behavioral trends we can expect in the post-Covid era, Mrs. Salzman answered that people will celebrate a new style of heroes - everyday nurses and everyday teachers and that we will witness more polarization, namely, people defining what they like and staying loyal and settling with these things.


Marian Salzman

Mrs. Salzman is recognized as one of the top five trend-spotters in the world and she’s also the most-awarded female public relations executive in the world, listed in PRWeek’s Global Power Book, in Business Insider’s 25 Most Powerful PR People, etc.

Her name can be spotted in such news outlets such as Forbes, where she elaborates on topics related to businesses and marketing, Daily Mail, who called her the person popularizing the term metrosexual, and The New York Times, who put her under the headline “A Woman in the Men’s World”. Mrs. Salzman herself is an author of more than 15 books, the more prominent of these being the “Buzz” and “Agile PR: Expert Messaging in a Hyper-Connected, Always-on World”.

Mrs. Salzman has an extremely impressive track record, taking on the marketing lead of various famous companies. She’s the co-founder of the first online market research company called “Cyber dialogue”. Since 2018, Marian Salzman has been the senior vice-president of global communications at Philip Morris International (PMI) heading the transformational crossing of the company to a smoke-free future, bringing to closure the era of cigarettes.

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