Tamara Bekčić and Milena Avramović-Bjelica, Directors and Co-Founders of Chapter 4: Transformation and adaptation are the key

Clients and agencies will continue to find optimal ways to invest in advertising, in order to adapt to business goals and contribute to sales growth

About what will happen after Covid-19, the future of communication industry, new technologies, new ways of communication and the growth of e-commerce, we spoke with Tamara Bekčić and Milena Avramović-Bjelica, Directors and Co-Founders of Chapter 4, best PR agency in Serbia in 2020 (in the category of small end medium size agencies, according to the professional jury of the Serbian PR Association).

Milena Avramović-Bjelica and Tamara Bekčić, Directors and Co-Founders of Chapter 4

The impact of Covid-19 is likely to vary significantly between different industry subsectors: the event industry is in huge decline, TV is holding, print and online so and so. What will advertising look like in the coming period?

MAB: In the pandemic, people’s behavior changed, especially during the two months of the pandemic, so all forms of communication changed “overnight”. As people mostly sat at home, it did not make sense for advertisers to continue with OOH advertising, but they adapted to consumer behavior and redirected budgets to advertising on digital channels, streaming, social networks, e-commerce… It is certain that digital advertising is going to continue to grow, as does e-commerce, so clients and agencies will continue to find optimal ways to invest in advertising, in order to adapt to business goals and contribute to sales growth. Certainly, the strategic flexibility regarding the choice of media to carry advertising campaigns will be even more pronounced in the future period.

TB: I think that most of the communication sub-sectors is returning to normal flows and continues to implement the plans with certain changes mentioned by Milena. Events are most affected – some are canceled, others are converted to different formats, some are more resistant, yet with reduced volume and with all precautionary measures that greatly affect the concept and visibility, and of course, much has been completely transferred to online platforms.

In general, a large number of communication activities has been adapted to suit the situation and pandemic-influenced plans have been re-evaluated. However, from our point of view and Chapter 4 clients, there were no major delays. We found ways to adjust our activities in a timely manner. Here, PR people have a great advantage because they have already acquired a crisis way of thinking and acting.

“The strategic flexibility regarding the choice of media to carry advertising campaigns will be even more pronounced in the future period”

The crisis seems to have led to the flourishing of new technologies, new ways of communication, the growth of e-commerce… What else and to what extent will change in communications?

MAB: Covid-19 has made a huge impact on our entire lives, professionally and personally, and has caused a huge shift in the way we communicate with each other. If someone did not understand the phrase “digital transformation” that had been used for years, now they certainly do, because we have all lived through it 24/7 in the past few months. Looking beyond this incredibly rapid change of channels we use to communicate, there is also a noticeable shift in the way business leaders talk to their employees, customers, investors and the wider community. Through constant video calls, we have literally entered each others` personal lives and that transparency led us all to be more authentic in communication, with more empathy… We have also become more accessible than usual, which everyone greatly appreciated and I`m inclined to think that this type of communication will be appreciated onwards, too.

TB: Technology had been here for a while, but the Covid crisis led to much wider use and activation of even those who had not been inclined to it. Many changes of this kind are very good, but the process of getting used to and fully adapting to new tools and channels is also necessary. Presentation skills for example – online and offline they are very different. There is a need for even greater shortening of textual forms, due to the widespread information overload. This leads to an even more pronounced need for key messages to target the very essence, in an attractive and highly ethical way. Visual and video content (short forms) have an undiminished effect, with the pandemic emphasizing the need to highlight the emotional support that companies and brands can apply and encourage positive change. Solidarity has gained additional visibility and importance.

“Our creativity, knowledge and experience are extremely important in communication, and this will be even more prominent”

Companies, institutions, consumers – they have all gone through different phases and changes. How to build trust between the Brand and the Consumer in today’s circumstances when fear is the dominant emotion?

TB: That is right. Numerous phases and changes… in just one year, more precisely – half a year. Fear of uncertainty has resulted in changes on a personal and professional level – as Milena said, less movement, (even) higher consumption of online content, evaluation and re-evaluation of everything. It is as if a pandemic is teaching us to accept change faster and faster, to be flexible and to adapt. There is also the inevitable issue of innovation and investment. Brands and companies that see and seize opportunities during the crisis can become even better and even more important to consumers, thus having a better chance of survival and value growth.

We still don’t know what the new normality is, but until we find out, will there be a change in the creation of strategies, in the development of tools, budgets, forecasts? Medium- and long-term planning is going down in history because we will all have to react quickly and in a short time. How will it be planned in the future?

TB: Strategic planning is getting more complicated. I wouldn’t say it all comes down to short-term planning. Context and the bigger picture are very important, and so are analytics, forecasting and monitoring. It is important that we expect changes and be prepared to reduce or avoid negative impacts.

I can also say that we were lucky because our industry certainly is not nearly affected as, for example, tourism and catering. However, it is to be expected that we will feel the real impact next year when the consequences are likely to affect all market participants and the entire economy. With this in mind, it is important for us to anticipate possible business scenarios and, as before, try to provide strong support to clients and their business through communication.

Will this situation also affect the change of design and message with which they will communicate with consumers in the future?

MAB: Sure, we have already talked about the fact that people are now more sensitive due to various uncertainties, fears, that the attention of the average consumer is very small with and without Covid-19… and it is necessary to adjust messages through all communication channels, especially depending on where users are located and through which channels they are reached. In the age of digital misinformation, users must be able to trust the sources of their information. Digital communication channels must take advantage of and upgrade the foundations created in real relationships. It is a serious challenge for all of us, from all spheres of communication, that the message sent by a brand or company are created and dispersed so that they reach every consumer. Because, despite the significant increase in the use of digital channels, there are certain groups that for various reasons and beliefs, social economic, religious… are still not yet users of digital channels.

Digital communication channels must take advantage and upgrade the foundations created in real relationships Bad and good news after Covid-19: is there light at the end of the tunnel in 2020?

TB: I think a lot depends on ourselves, whether and how we will continue to plan, monitor the situation, act and react. If someone had told us what we would go through and what we would succeed in this year, we probably wouldn’t have believed it ourselves. We have the ideas and the strength to make them come to life. A pandemic, unfortunately, can last. The light at the end of the tunnel for us means showing and proving an essential partnership with the business sector and persevering in strategic planning, creativity with both, innovations and adjustments to seize the moment.

MAB: Always. A crisis is always an opportunity and a new beginning. It seems to me that Tamara`s and my most frequently mentioned words are – transformation and adaptation. And they are most important because they reflect readiness of companies, brands and people to change and find new ways and channels of communication with their target groups. Our creativity, knowledge and experience are extremely important in communication, and this will be even more prominent.

Agency of the Year

Finally, I would like to add that the recent Serbian PR awards were awarded by the expert jury from various fields of communications, under the support of the only national professional association – the Serbian Public Relations Society. This is to show how many creative and amazing people we have in our profession and how fantastic campaigns they have developed and implemented despite the circumstances. We are especially proud of the fact that this year our agency, Chapter 4, has been awarded as the Agency of the Year in the category of small and medium agencies, which represents great honor for the whole agency team and an additional motive for all of us to keep our eyes on that light and the future.

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