There are many things that we will all learn from this COVID crisis. It has given us a stark backdrop against which we can pause and assess what is important and accelerate what matters most in our lives.
Ivan is the Global CMO of General Mills. He began his career as a media planner in full-service advertising agencies like BMP and Wieden+Kennedy. As the media world changed, Ivan pioneered Connections Planning as a discipline and then joined The Coca-Cola Company as its global lead in media and connections. General Mills recruited him in 2017 – a sign of the times that they wanted a connections specialist as a CMO.
Sure, we have seen a lot of ‘ugly’: dishonesty, disruption, indecision, selfishness and greed. Let’s not forget that and let us learn from it. Unsurprisingly, I want to talk about the beautiful.
You will have all read a lot about the ingenuity, the agility, the resilience and the humanity of our society in the way we have risen to the challenges, solved problems and helped each other.
But let me bring this down a level or two from society at large to our industry and then to me.In the midst of challenging times, the challenge does not create character, it reveals it.
At the industry level, I think we have learned that marketing is still a vital and powerful force in shaping the fortunes of our companies and has risen in importance inside corporations.
The craft of empathy, understanding, problem identification and then powerful storytelling to shape the way people think, feel and act has come back to the foreground in building businesses.
There is a renewed belief in the power and importance of brands and the creativity required to build them. The application of that craft to all stakeholders from consumers to commentators to employees to investors has also risen in value.
That application has been much more about actions than just the words and that is a move that is teaching us the importance of both – especially when those actions turn brands into a force for good.
And the acceleration of the changes that our industry needed, from the evolution of digital, to addressing the inequality in opportunities for all inside our companies and outside in society have been positive.
In aggregate, this has gifted us momentum as a marketing and advertising industry, but we must work hard to maintain this.
In my book, that counts as beautiful.
And what about the personal level?
My big lessons are about values. In the midst of challenging times, the challenge does not create character, it reveals it. So, for me, lockdown has made me think really hard about all that I have learned from life in terms of what I think it means to live.
The philosopher, Schopenhauer, once said that we spend too much time reflecting on the past or anticipating the future such that we forget to live in the present. What does ‘living in the present’ mean to me?
When I was a kid, my mum, who was a Social Worker, asked me what the meaning of life was (not a deep discussion, more a reaction to Monty Python). I answered glibly that the best philosophers from the last 2,000 years hadn’t cracked that, so I was not going to be able to. I said I thought the purpose of life was to “have a good time and help others have a good time” and I stood by it.
Lockdown has reminded me of this, and I have gotten back to trying to put it into practice. How? Well, my formula is simple.
Be kind: to yourself, and to all those around you.
Be true: to what you believe in, and how you act.
And be funny: spread a little happiness in every interaction you have.
Lockdown reminded me of that, and it also gave me new ways of doing it
Those are my lessons. I hope yours are equally illuminating for you.
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