Marketing In Times Of Crisis: An Interview With Antonia Cross
Published onSep 29, 2021byClaire Dibben
We spoke to Antonia Cross (Head of Marketing & Communications at Caring in Bristol) ahead of her talk at Digital Gaggle next month.
Digital Gaggle is Noisy Little Monkey's digital marketing conference which will take place both in-person (at Bristol's Watershed cinema) and online on Thursday 28th October.
In her session, Antonia will teach marketers how to make a big impact on a small budget. Using real life examples of how her team pivoted Caring in Bristol's communications strategy during lockdown, Antonia will provide attendees with a checklist of things to prioritise when it comes to communicating during a crisis.
You can book your ticket to the event below.
Hi Antonia! How was it working in marketing for a charity during the biggest global pandemic of our lifetime?
It was both exhausting and affirming. Caring in Bristol’s marcomms strategy was designed to be agile so seeing it tested by a break-neck speed situation with lots of ever-present in-your-face stresses was important. And the past year really confirmed that what we had designed was robust; which was good but also exhausting because it was like marketing and communications whack-a-mole, wasn’t it?! I need to enter Britain's Got Talent as a plate spinner, I’m certain that every one-person band and micro-marketing team empathises.
My talk is directed at people on a squeezed budget because in those environments the pressure of needing to pick and choose between priorities is not just alive in crisis situations but daily. Especially when you have limited financial and staff resources, I empathise with that very well.
Honestly, I think our team felt a lot of pressure not internally, as our wider team was very supportive, but from ourselves. Our marketing function is a core part of our income generation and, like a lot of marketers and fundraisers, last year we felt very accountable for the outcome of our work and both the income and engagement it generated. With us, this directly impacts the sustainability of support we provide for clients experiencing and at risk of homelessness. This pressure grew as the devastation caused by sickness, lockdown and economic freefall meant that our services became really vital. But every sector's experience was equally stressful and had its own unique pressures. Having any externally facing role comes with lots of responsibility and I certainly had some sleepless nights. On the flip side, we also had some immense highs, being back at square one means you can go any direction you want and I’m proud we took that opportunity. I've worked in housing and homelessness for over a decade and I’ve never experienced anything like it, and I’m not sure I ever will again.
A photo of Antonia, Head of Marketing at homelessness charity Caring In Bristol
Your talk at Digital Gaggle next month will be about making a big impact on a small budget – what in your experience is a really impactful, but often neglected, activity for marketers?
I can’t repeat this enough: internal indicators of brand awareness! You can enable these with thoughtful brand and marketing infrastructure. There are 11 suggested internal factors that support great brand awareness and make a big impact. I’ve often seen inward thinking neglected in brand strategies and wrote about this for my MSc. Effectively, you can have the best brand identity in the world and the coolest social media - but if your staff aren’t proud to work for you, then it will start to show externally. I’ll be taking people through a process of how I health-check these at Caring In Bristol and how (and why) we established integrated marketing. I also have a few other activities… but that would be giving the talk away!
You had to swiftly change your communications strategy when Covid-19 sent the UK into lockdown last year. What’s your advice to any marketers who find themselves having to urgently pivot their communications plan at short notice?
Two pieces of advice that I was given (and think about a lot) spring to mind.
The first is from my Grandad who taught me ‘The world moves at the pace you do’. This is something that I use in crisis communications, public relations, and project management a lot. If you rush to perform, everything will rush back at you at twice the speed. You can be fast-paced without rushing. The best way to slow the oncoming rush is to take a deep breath and lead with your own mannerisms. I sometimes even slow my voice when I’m talking to the press or in time-pressured situations to reflect this (in a subtle non-condescending way, I’m usually a very fast talker!)
At the beginning of lockdown we had to throw our plans for the year out of the window. We could have rushed, scrambled together a new plan and darted out emails, but instead I took a morning to determine four guiding pillars to manage our way through the period. I repeated these daily and wrote them at the top of each draft piece of work we produced throughout COVID. These pillars were informed by audit and analysis and proved to be a valuable decision. It’s also important to take time to reflect and evaluate, scheduling space to do this is important and I had to practice this habit.
It also works personally. I think it’s particularly important to teach people the skill of communicating timescales. I never say ‘when do you want this done by?’ instead I’ll politely say ‘I’ll have this done by X if my schedule remains the same, and X at the latest’. This may be eye-rollingly basic for some people, but it doesn't come naturally for all of us! I used this a lot throughout the past year.
And the second is from my Dad who says ‘Don’t worry about what other people are doing, worry about what you’re doing!’. Aside from the fact this was aimed at me comparing my life to others (I’ve had to delete my personal Instagram), it works very well in professional marketing situations. For example, it was easy last March to feel pressured into ‘X is making a statement about their services impacted by COVID so we should too’. Instead, consider directing energy into really knowing your audience(s) and organisation, so you can have courage in your conviction that when you do something, it’s for their benefit and yours, not simply to catch up with, or match others.
Another tip I'll share is: clear knowledge of your stakeholders and their saliency. This can be really helpful when you’re on a tighter budget and you need to ascertain where and how to direct time and resources. It’s easier said than done when different team members have differing worldviews and priorities, but a consistent process of how this is established can support that. We are working hard at Caring In Bristol to ensure everyone has this level of knowledge. From services to senior leadership, everyone in the team is clear about their stakeholders and segmentation.
Antonia certainly has a ton of wisdom to share, which is why we are incredibly excited to have her join the event next month. Don't forget to pick up a ticket - they range in price depending on how you choose to experience the conference so take a look at the line-up and get involved here.