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It's time to stand up and be counted

John McGee


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Diageo-owned subsidiary Guinness is creating a fund of €1.5m to support communities around the country. stock image

Diageo-owned subsidiary Guinness is creating a fund of €1.5m to support communities around the country. stock image

Diageo-owned subsidiary Guinness is creating a fund of €1.5m to support communities around the country. stock image

Earlier this week, the Diageo-owned subsidiary Guinness announced that it was creating a fund of €1.5m to support communities around the country that have been affected by Covid-19.

Of this, €1.2m will go to support the thousands of bar staff who have lost their jobs, while the remaining €300,000 will go towards assisting vulnerable elderly people around the country through a partnership with the charity ALONE.

At a time when the country is in near lockdown mode, several hundred thousand are out of a job and people are fearful of what may lie in store for them, their families and friends, Guinness did the right and decent thing by stepping up to the plate and helping those who have helped the company, and those who are most vulnerable.

At a time when the Diageo share price has tanked over the last month, eroding shareholder value in the process, its munificence will be noted by the many people who will benefit from it and, perhaps, those who haven't.

Not long after Guinness made its announcement, Irish Distillers said it was partnering with Mervue Labs in Cork to supply free hand sanitising gel to the HSE at a time when supplies are running very low.

Of course, some people will dismiss these as PR stunts but in my book, actions speak louder than words. By writing a cheque for €1.5m or manufacturing free hand gels, these companies have shown what empathy and good corporate citizenship look like when disaster strikes and fear sets in.

Over the coming weeks and months, there will be many companies and brands that will be tested, and possibly judged, on their response to the unfolding Covid-19 crisis that has wreaked global havoc.

Over the past few years, I have attended many conferences and seminars in Ireland and overseas where CMOs, academics and agency folk have spouted on about the importance of purpose-led marketing, and how important it is for brands to do more for society, their employees and their customers.

At times, I've wondered whether or not some of the speakers were being genuine or just jumping on the latest marketing bandwagon. Purpose-driven marketing is a big thing at the moment. For the uninitiated, purpose-driven marketing helps set brands apart because it lets consumers know that they aren't just in it to make money but to make a difference to society, the planet or whatever mast they have nailed their marketing colours to.

Some brands get it, others try to, while others fail spectacularly or get rumbled.

Unilever's recent pledge to offload brands in its portfolio that lack 'purposeful meaning' is, perhaps, an example of the kind of thinking that has permeated the marketing world over the past two years.

Closer to home and perhaps less grandiose but heart-warming nonetheless is Electric Ireland's work with Pieta House and its Darkness into Light initiative, and An Post's free address service for the 10,000 homeless people in Ireland.

These are initiatives that have made a tangible difference to people's lives. And in the case of Electric Ireland's tie-up with Pieta House, it has actually saved lives.

Now is the time for more companies and brands like Guinness, Irish Distillers, Electric Ireland and An Post to step up to the plate and do their bit for the country, its citizens and the customers who buy their goods and services on a daily basis. To their credit, the country's main banks stepped up to the plate last week by agreeing holiday breaks for loans and mortgages, and the provision of emergency working capital to businesses.

While this is a short-term measure, many people who are in financial distress will, perhaps, have a more favourable view of their banking relationship as a result.

Times have changed and in times of crisis you get to know who your friends are. It is entirely conceivable that in the post-Covid-19 landscape, consumers will recall the brands and companies that have stood out as being decent, honourable, sympathetic and helpful.

When all of this passes, I will be visiting as many pubs, restaurants and shops that did the right thing, at the right time, by closing up.

I will be supporting those businesses who treated their staff and customers with respect and dignity. I will also be shopping in retail outlets that did their bit to help the vulnerable, and I will be ditching social media that has been complicit in spreading misleading rumours and fake news.

Most of all, I will be raising a pint of Guinness and a Jameson chaser to all the brands and people who have put their money where their mouths are - with extra brownie points for those using contactless payments.

◊ With the Irish tourism industry on its knees and many hotel closures imminent, Tourism Ireland is looking to the Government for an additional €20m to help it fund its overseas promotion activities once the Covid-19 crisis has passed.

Tourism Ireland already has an annual marketing budget of €45m and prior to the pandemic outbreak, it was running campaigns in many markets including China, where it was hoping to woo visitors to these shores.

◊ Diageo, one of the biggest media accounts in the business, is on the move. Following a worldwide review of the account, the business was picked up by the Omnicom-owned PHD.

The incumbent is the Dentsu Aegis-owned Carat, which recently picked up the Vodafone Ireland account.

The other agencies that made the shortlist for the account pitch included GroupM and Publicis Media.

Sunday Indo Business