How we faced the COVID-19 crisis in Good Rebels

Fernando Polo

1 July 2020

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After two months of lockdown (and the ‘new abnormal’), it seems that we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel after the COVID-19 health crisis. The scenario the world economy faces is still uncertain, but if the virus can be kept at bay, everything indicates that many sectors will be able to recover activity levels close to those before the epidemic began. In this document, we have included our recommendations for Marketing and Communications Directors in what we have called the Re-Launch Phase. It is clear that the pandemic has accelerated the superdigitalisation. In the last few weeks, business activity at Good Rebels has seen an unprecedented surge for the month of June. This makes us confident that our turnover will hardly suffer compared to 2019. But two months ago, we weren’t so sure.

In the first moments of the pandemic, we worked tirelessly to define economic scenarios and decide on measures to be taken on jobs and cost containment. We decided not to take advantage of public aid because we believed that others would need it more than us. And we also decided to keep all the jobs. These are some of the principles we worked with and the measures we put in place to ensure them.

People first, profit zero

Perhaps you have heard us speak on other occasions of our mantra “human-centred organisations“: we want to inspire organisations to be more human-centric, focusing on a triple “journey”: the customer, the co-workers and the citizen (wider society). 

As Seth Godin wrote at the beginning of the crisis, “now is not the time to put off our principles until tomorrow”. We had set an ambitious 2020 growth target for Good Rebels of 25%, following the acquisition of Muskae and Kanvas. In just 5 days, we had to change the pace and put the focus on defending the jobs of all the Rebels, foregoing any kind of benefit at the end of the year if necessary.

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Our commitment to clients increases to 120%

Since March 10th, all the Rebels in Spain, Mexico, and the UK worked from home. We have been encouraging this practice for years, so we redoubled our efforts and put ourselves on 24/7 alert for our clients (large companies, many directly affected by Government laws) who had to turn around abruptly, changing their marketing plans, media mix, budgets and messages on digital platforms.

To ensure an extraordinary service we decided not to apply for Government aid based on workforce temporary reductions. We anticipated a drop in our operational workload of up to 20% but invested this idle capacity in the clients who need it the most and in continuing to prepare ourselves for the upcoming superdigitalisation.

Reductions in some salaries, but not working hours

Good Rebels has over 100 workers. To protect the cash flow (and defend jobs) it was necessary to reduce the overhead and fixed costs derived from wages.

We started with the circle we call Alliance; 21 rebels with more than 15 years of experience coordinating other circles, hubs, basecamps or client teams. We set an initial salary reduction target for this group of 40% on average over three months, starting in April. Reductions were anonymous and voluntary. After personally talking to the senior partners, I called each member of the circle and made a proposal, we did not force anyone to accept this reduction, and we reviewed each personal situation at the end of every month. We also set up a fund so that rebels could access financial aid if they needed it. Two rebels decided to reduce their salaries a little less than what we proposed, but others made up the difference, achieving an average reduction of 39.5% for Alliance.

In our basecamp in the UK we followed a different process. All the rebels in the team who were not part of Alliance decided to reduce their salaries, also voluntarily, and according to their level within the company. When we explained these measures to the other rebels in Spain, some of them decided to reduce their salaries also voluntarily, spontaneously and anonymously. These are rebels with higher salaries, who took a reduction of 20% on average.

Overall, 35 rebels reduced their salaries voluntarily without reducing their dedication. This makes us very proud of ourselves, as we are proving first-hand how a human-centred organisation reacts to an unprecedented crisis like the one we are experiencing. No doubt peer pressure has been an important part of this, but so has our culture of love and empathy for others. And, of course, the levels of commitment that many rebels have to this project, thanks in part to our “leadertarian” and transparent approach to management and corporate culture.

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Reducing our overhead

We undertook a comprehensive review to reduce up to 30% of our overhead (mostly, non-critical expenses for service continuity). But at the same time, we paid special attention to help our most vulnerable suppliers and business partners.

Citizen Journey: doing what we do best

We like to explain how Good Rebels works to help society by focusing on what we do best. On the one hand, by not asking for help, we freed up government funds for those who need them most, while at the same time helping freelancers and SMEs and safeguarding jobs.

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Open knowledge, also in times of pandemic

On the other hand, in line with our mantra of open knowledge, we created a special working group to conduct webinars, we launched a Barometer about COVID-19 and Marketing in Spain and a note with analysis and recommendations for CMOs, which we invite you to consult here:

The upcoming superdigitalisation

It looks like the crisis has slowed down, we have already gotten out of lockdown, and we have started to go back to shopping… But nothing will be the same. Some of us lost loved ones or our jobs. Just as an environmental awareness has been awakened, we will see sustainable consumption grow and, above all, an acceleration of digital habits. They say that the SARS epidemic in China catapulted ecommerce and the digital giants we know today. We foresee an acceleration in the digital transformation of companies in the medium term and we want to continue to be the partner of choice when the worst of this crisis is over.

Some weeks ago at a meeting, I referred to 2020 as a lost year. I feel now that it could become quite the opposite, 2020 will be an inflection point for Good Rebels, and we are happy to still be in the running.