„When it comes to managing change, we took a shortcut"

Von Melanie Schmid

In the following interview, Oliver Roth, Managing Director of the pilot marketing agency’s Munich location, discusses how consumer behavior has changed as a result of the crisis, its consequences for brand communication, and what the rapid implementation of innovations has to do with bumblebees.

The media industry – and the agency sector in particular - is undergoing rapid change. What changes is pilot going through at the moment?

Oliver Roth: The entire communication industry, as well as the agency branch, are undergoing profound structural change. Digital change is everywhere – due to Corona, it now feels as if we had skipped three to four years of development and implementation. This not only affects the way we think about campaigns - it also affects the way we work together in our company.

Distance no longer plays a role. Teams come together and form groups based on skills, remote working has been introduced without any problems, and is turning out to be a good alternative. New campaigns were developed and deployed within three or four days. Due to the crisis we gained a creativity boost and things were implemented very fast. Now we are entering a new phase. How do we benefit from our experience under normal circumstances?

"Due to the crisis we gained a creativity boost and things were implemented very fast. Now we are entering a new phase. How do we benefit from our experience under normal circumstances?"

Due to the crisis, the advertising budgets of many companies have been reduced. How does this affect agencies and how should agencies position themselves in the future?

Roth: It's true that a number of advertisers immediately started to cut back as soon as Corona came up. However, there are also companies that have recognized the opportunities presented by this situation and have increased their budgets. Especially in times of crisis, the consulting services provided by agencies are in high demand. We give our customers rapid communication solutions and support them in making the right decisions.

"This consulting expertise will become even more important in the future. As the variety of media continues to grow, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain an overview and to develop the best individual strategy for a brand. Customers must also be aware that consulting services cost money – if you don’t pay the right price you won’t get the right service."

How do you and your services keep up with today’s increasing media diversity?

Roth: It’s all about passion. You cannot work in this industry without honestly being interested in media, content, and communication. We are constantly creating new formats and trends. It is incredible to observe what happens in this highly innovative industry on a daily basis.

In your study series “pilot Radar” you investigate how brand communication can succeed in the time of Corona. What results have you already achieved with this?

Roth: The “pilot Radar” study was not made purely out of PR hype. Our aim was to observe changes in the attitudes and consumer behaviour of Germans in this new situation in order to make recommendations to our clients.

By the end of May, it had already become very clear that during the crisis, the way people see products had changed and brand capital was coming under increasing pressure. Interest in brands is decreasing; people are focusing more on prices and discounts. The intensive analysis of consumption in general also holds opportunities for brands that take this trend seriously. This is where we need a good quality consulting service as a part of the agency. When it comes to the right strategy, it is necessary to evaluate the consumers’ attitudes within a group of potential clients on a brand-specific basis.

The development of a value framework, which focuses on the entrepreneurial action of brands as well as on the communication of the company, plays an important role in this process. Saying "thank you" from time to time is not enough.

The pandemic has changed working processes - entire companies now work from home. What is the situation in your company at the moment?

Roth: When the lockdown began, we managed to get all employees across all our agencies working "remote" in the space of one morning while maintaining full productivity. During those first eight weeks, the experience was a great adventure for all of us. In the meantime, we are gradually reducing the "remote" status.

"Despite all the advantages of remote working, we clearly missed interaction and direct exchange. I can't remember how many creative or extraordinary ideas have come up during the coffee break in our kitchen."

However, there will still be a number of Corona-related changes regarding the way we interact with our customers or the way we present ourselves. Our company will also be more flexible when it comes to remote working in the future. To sum it up, we have just taken a shortcut in terms of managing change.

Due to the changed situation, companies have started to develop many new ideas and innovative projects. Things that were barely feasible before the crisis have been implemented within a few days. Have you had a similar experience at pilot?

Roth: At the moment we are taking into consideration our experience and we are examining how we can work like this at pilot in the future. It was really amazing to see how smoothly the sudden shutdown went for us! It makes me think of how bumblebees fly. When you see the chubby insects, you can't imagine that they are able to take off, but then they just do it.

pilot is located in six cities – Munich being one of them. In your eyes, what are the benefits of being located in Bavaria?

Roth: Great things are happening here! We appreciate the target-oriented location policy of the Bavarian State Government. They provide concrete support, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. There are a number of interesting initiatives that are being launched to strengthen Bavaria as a location for innovation. The launch of the MedienNetzwerk Bayern (Media Network Bavaria) or the Zentrum Digitalisierung.Bayern (Bavarian Center for Digitization) platforms, for example, was supported by the state government. As a communications agency, we also benefit from these measures. At the moment, we are all faced with the question of how we can ensure that smaller companies, start-ups, free-lancers, creative people, or artists can survive this difficult time and maintain the entrepreneurial diversity that makes Bavaria, and Munich in particular, so special.