Lessons learned from launching a brand during the pandemic

Originally published on Linked.

Empty billboards - shot by Ahram Online

Just as I push open the office door with my elbow, my mobile rings for the third time since I left my car. I’m holding too many things and can’t see my phone from my fogged-up sunglasses, thanks to my floral—and unnecessarily fancy—face mask.

I finally make it to my desk and answer what ended up being a “we-need-to-address-yet-another-pandemic-related-delay” type of call.

The past six months have been one hell of a ride! Almost worthy of being turned into a black comedy version of The Office, half of which would, of course, be just replays of Google Meets, Zoom, Microsoft Meets, and a hell of Whatsapp voice notes.

My whole adventure began in December, when I was headhunted to join the very growth-driven team of Arab Finance. The news-brokerage hybrid company was acquired less than a year earlier after the company stagnated for over 10 years; the new management of which spent the first eight-plus month focused on turning the brokerage from hemorrhaging money into a profit machine, but now it was time to pay attention to the news side of business. It was also time for a much-needed revamp of the whole business model.

Here’s where I came in and here’s where the rollercoaster of lessons shortly followed.

Factor in Feelings when Business Planning

In all my initial meetings, I estimated that the division of both companies from a branding, business development, and sales standpoint to take two months (conservative scenario).

While our previous political issues should have taught me to always plan for an overnight mega crisis, I failed to include it in any scenario we set. More importantly, I failed to include the emotional state of such an issue on internal and external stakeholders.

Especially at the beginning, it was difficult for all of us to keep the team motivated for growth when they feared the health of their families and the collapse of the economy.

Add to that the overnight shift to remote-working. While internally we were used to this norm, our external contributors weren’t, and we had outsourced A LOT of projects.

Of course, none of them could remotely be faulted for any of this; we are all humans trying to work during a global crisis.

That said, I now understand the important lesson of factoring in feelings amid crises when business planning.

Fast forward to today, it took us slightly over five months to complete the first phase of our ever-growing plan.

Stay the Course?

While things are starting to seem a bit clearer—for now, it’s still a long hell of a year—this wasn’t always the sentiment, especially between March and May. If you’ve driven across 6th of October bridge when it had no billboards, you’ll know what exactly what I mean.

Our plans included significant investments in terms of time, personnel, and money and we had no idea how the economy was going to hold. Furthermore, we had no idea how consumer behavior is going to shift as a result of the pandemic. This was a gamble on all levels, and there isn’t really a relatively recent pandemic to benchmark with.

Nevertheless, we decided to stay the course, maintaining our plans. The only thing we shifted around was which products will be rolled out first. For example, one of our main new products (yet to be announced) has been postponed for smaller and easier to sell services (to be announced this July).

Still a bit early to tell if our plan worked, but it seems so.

Skip the Slippery Gravy Boat

Of course, a core part of the restructure included evening out the workload by amending the job description of existing team members (click here for an explanation of why and how); redefining our daily content; setting new standards of quality and new methods of working; hiring new calibers.

All of this requires time and patience to integrate smoothly into a demanding newsroom life.

However, the irony-loving pandemic provided us, overnight, with a huge surge in our potential as a news provider. Our traffic was growing, and people were searching for COVID’s impact on everything local.

While this was a golden opportunity to expand on our news products, we had to find the right balance between pacing ourselves to ensure the new shift in the team happens smoothly and expanding our news services to encourage more traffic.

The lesson here was: a good and stable team comes first, they will create new opportunities.

A Happy Circus

The most important lesson I learned is the importance of taking care of others’ mental status. Perhaps the most crucial ingredient when growing amid crises is a happy, understanding, and supportive work culture. Even when your colleagues seem perfectly okay on the outside, they may be waging an internal war.

Taking the time to ensure that at least the office culture is a happy one is more crucial than you think. It was definitely a blessing being part of an ever-encouraging and laughing-amid-crises team.

This in no way means that I’m done learning lessons from launching new brands during a global pandemic, our journey is still long, and we expect nothing short of a five-alarm rollercoaster.

To learn more about our two new companies, check out the promos for Arab Finance for Information Technology and AF Securities.