It wasn’t that long ago when PPE was just an Oxford academic qualification that might help glide you through the doors of the account handling department at J Walter Thompson (or 10 Downing Street). Nowadays, of course, it’s an acronym for essential life-saving equipment that is in such demand by healthcare professionals but also in short supply.
While the comms industry has mobilised itself brilliantly and with such power to encourage people to stay at home – and to thank all key workers – some agencies and individuals have gone further still to help ensure that those on the front line get the PPE that’s essential for them to do their jobs safely. This is despite the abilities of agencies to retool for this national effort being rather more limited than in other sectors.
Just a few years ago, many agences proudly set up 3D printers in their reception areas to show how they were at the forefront of what was claimed to be the cutting edge of technology. Their impact largely followed the principles of Amara’s law, an edict the industry has always been accused of following slavishy (well, it is a sales business), which dictates that the effect of a technology is overestimated in the short run and underestimated in the long run.
But these printers have now come into their own. Bartle Bogle Hegarty Stockholm’s Android developer, Timmy Jonsson, is using 3D-printing technology to produce protective visors on a limited – but much welcome – production basis for use in the health sector. For any other agencies that have 3D printers, maybe gathering dust, following such an initiative would be a welcome use of their technology.
And, on a more local level, some individuals have been using their skills to help produce medical gowns and other equipment that have fallen foul to the inherent problems of the free market, leading to national shortages.
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For example, Ogilvy UK chief executive Michael Frohlich has been using his craft skills to create medical visors as part of an effort by a local Facebook group. Alan Young – one of the founders of St Luke’s, the agency responsible for the brilliant "Stay home now" campaign – and his family have been stitching medical gowns from their home in Norfolk. Meanwhile, Hot Pickle is delivering care packages to doctors and nurses at NHS Nightingale containing goods from Unilever.
While it’s difficult not to feel a little impotent at times given the limitations that we have, how brilliant to discover that our industry is doing its bit, quietly and unselfishly. I’m sure there are many other examples – please let us know.
Jeremy Lee is consulting editor at Campaign