Solidarity: The French Marketing Industry in the Time of Covid-19

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The societal and economic impact of a global pandemic can best be absorbed with a clear-eyed mix of triage and investment for the future.  In France, a greater sense of shared business interest in the ad industry is emerging, which makes sense in a country with a historical legacy of a social safety net for citizens and businesses.

The knee-jerk reaction to any crisis is to go on defense.  And when you’re dealing with a seismic crisis, which no one working in our industry has ever faced, “play it safe” can cause a chain reaction of poor choices and create systemic turmoil.  Sometimes the dark side of human nature can emerge in a scary situation. But instead of behaving like the Billy Zane character in “Titanic,” stopping at nothing to secure himself a lifeboat seat, we would hope our better angels prevail and we all meet the challenge together as one.

An “every man (company) for himself” attitude can have a demoralizing and corrosive effect on a company, which can lead to a Darwinian force multiplier that can infect an entire industry.  Crisis typically causes cash flow to slow down or even stop. Companies often cut staffing and go into immediate holding patterns. In France, a history hardwired by the societal DNA of “liberté, égalité & fraternité” makes it easier to take a more cooperative approach in a business that is typically one of the first areas to be targeted for cost-cutting in an economic crisis. In the case of the Covid-19 outbreak, those of us here in the French and broader European ad community is drawing solace and seeking inspiration through a sense of solidarity where all parties work cooperatively.  It’s comforting to have this history to draw from considering the French government has been roundly criticized for its lack of preparedness–including shortages of masks and testing kits– for the outbreak. 

Government Support Sets the Tone for Solidarity

Despite the French federal government’s lackluster performance in anticipating the pandemic, as it’s done in previous crises like the 2008-09 global recession, it has stepped in immediately following the shelter-in-place decree with a robust and comprehensive financial assistance package with very little partisan wrangling.  Striking a “we’re in this together” attitude has ensured the seamless cash flow within the country so far.  This solicitude at the top makes it easier for all citizens -individual and corporate- to not slide down the pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs into a state of economic as well as physical peril.

When a corporate citizenry knows that the safety net has been cast, it inspires each and every one of us to join a concerted striving to keep every member of the economy afloat. The idea is that everyone ensures that all members of their individual supply chains remain paid and buoyant.  The solidarity of course also extends to workers.  Our employees, like most French workers, are protected as federal measures facilitate the ability to delay or avoid altogether layoffs and furloughs.

Consumer Flexibility in the Name of Solidarity

While being a country that has historically prioritized civil liberties like consumer privacy, France looks poised to follow Germany’s example of using FitBit-type tracking strategies to perform contact tracing to isolate the Coronavirus spread, thereby hastening a broad economic reopening.  Consumers are more flexible about giving up substantial privacy for the greater societal good.  There is certainly anxiety about overreach in certain corners of the globe where authoritarian leaders push the envelope on limiting civil liberties in the name of crisis management.  Here in France, we are reminded of how lucky we are that we are supported by a guiding principle forged from generations of social democratic governance.

When a baseline of stability and a plan/timeline out of the crisis is established, companies will be better equipped to pursue their long-term strategic business goals in the interim. Already, there have been many reports of productivity actually being enhanced in a #WFH context as all of our days are more streamlined.  A positive unintended benefit of quarantining has been the ability to be more focused when it comes to prospecting and client relationship management.  It could also be a good time to focus on R&D and product development if you are an ad tech company as the world inches forward with reopening plans.

“We’ll get through this together” has become a rallying cry on the Internet for the global fight against the pandemic.  Already, rays of light are breaking through.  Regarding eCPM for programmatic ads in France, we saw a 25% upward spike from the beginning of April to the end of the month.  As an ad community here in France, we’ve embraced the importance of solidarity. And despite my natural French tendency for looking at the world through less than rose-colored glasses, I have hope and a sense of optimism that we’ll get through the trials and tribulations facing us all in the coming weeks and months.

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