Taking on the role of President of Europe at AxiCom during lockdown, Kate Stevens provides a real insight into the challenge of managing different teams and offices across Europe, especially in different stages of the pandemic.
“Suddenly having responsibility for people, you didn’t have to look after before, in a remote environment, has posed challenges.”
Having lost her predecessor at the start of this year, Kate explains the difficulties of managing sudden change whilst taking on the role of President of Europe at AxiCom.
“As a business, we were very much reeling from that, so I was already in a gear of dragging our offices through something that was quite a seismic happening for us as an agency… wheels were already in motion of that strange remote looking after, that remote sense of mothering that you do to people when they need emotional support rather than business support”.
“Suddenly to have the responsibility for looking after people you have previously not had to look after, in a remote environment, does certainly pose its challenges”.
“Our business across Europe were affected to different degrees…a lot of clients paused work in Spain, Germany was quite impacted”.
“That I think for me was probably the breaking point”
On working during the pandemic, Kate admitted: “I think it would be fair, true and honest to say that behind the scenes, it’s not been plain sailing, it’s not been an easy ride. I think it’s a perfect storm”.
“We encourage people to talk about how they feel about things so that people aren’t hiding things, and I was very much vocal about stress points and challenges to my colleagues and peers”.
“In truth, it was when Black Lives Matter hit the headlines and I found myself trying to navigate us as a company through something else that is challenging when all the decisions are being put on your shoulders, that I think for me was probably the breaking point where I just thought, I’m really tired now. I’m tired of having to put on the face and keep marching through, and I think it’s ok for me to storm out of my tiny lockdown office and take the children to the park and just yell at the trees for a second”.
“Little things are important to support each other.”
Everyone is treated like family at AxiCom, Kate explains. “It’s really about allowing people to talk about the challenges they’re facing, from an emotional level and a business level…each of our country managers is a different person and they will react to things in a very different way: some very pragmatic and calm and some quite anxious and struggling. So, it’s just about tailoring and being very human at a time like this”.
“Fortunately, we’re in tech, so a lot of our business was thriving… but in places like Spain, where the economy is already fragile, people were very nervous. It’s not about beating people with a stick, it’s about how we can overcome this and support each other”.
“We have a great team in HR who rose to the occasion of trying to rally everyone across Europe”.
“We set up a team across Europe for people to share photos and videos of themselves, we ran a competition, we had Axi workouts of the day where you could win some Amazon vouchers. Little things are important to support each other”.
“It’s okay to not know what to say in a situation that none of us has ever lived through”
“We are extremely fortunate that we’ve not taken a hit that we’re seen from some of our peers in the industry. I am thanking our lucky stars”.
On mitigation “it was a real case of looking at how we partner with our clients. A lot of people, in particular, CMOs and CFOs would be looking at how they can reign in money at this time, but in a crisis like this, it’s so important to get corporate communications and PR right”.
“I certainly felt fatigued with all the messages from any brand I’d ever engaged with telling me that this is a tough time and that they’re here for me. I just thought, shut up, you sell shoes, you’re not here for me”.
“It’s okay to not know what to say in a situation that none of us has ever lived through, but it was interesting to help our clients understand what kind of thing they should be saying to their audience”.
“I worry about a lost generation who have missed out on a lot during this time.”
“I think people choose to work in an agency because they enjoy that thriving environment and we find that people do prefer to be in the office”.
“There are also all the touchpoints that can be forgotten about. How all the juniors are mentored by simply being surrounded by people doing business, hearing other people are on the phone”.
“I worry about a lost generation who have missed out on a lot during this time”.
“There’s a lot that can’t be counted for such as the downtime on our commute. Most people live with other people and have been forced to go straight from our work situation straight into a personal situation without breathing space in between”.