When the long and the short of it isn't enough
A view from Sue Unerman

When the long and the short of it isn't enough

In this current climate, we also need to consider the medium term and the very long term.

The advertising and marketing industry is familiar with the collective wisdom of the IPA best-practice papers summed up by Les Binet and Peter Field’s paper The Long and the Short of it, where the importance of balancing short-term tactics with long-term strategy is emphasised. (Initial findings recommended balancing 40% short term with 60% long term in terms of budget, although later findings are more nuanced, recommending that for some sectors – for instance, retail – long-term effort should take up 70% of spend.)

In 2020, in current circumstances, these rules of thumb are tested to the limit. The necessity of short-term measures may well overrule carefully laid plans. Longer-term branding activity that has been planned for months will, in some cases, be replaced by brands communicating how they are doing their bit, with messages reflecting the current crisis, or by corporate social responsibility. Short-term activity may focus on ecommerce, as discussed in this assessment of the current circumstances in Campaign last week. 

One senior marketer has reflected that it is relatively easy to plan for the short term. In this quarter, maybe next quarter, you do what you must. Equally, it is relatively simple to write strategies for the long term, for when things get back to some kind of normal, for next year. 

The tricky issue is planning for the medium term. For later in the third or fourth quarter. When the "unknown unknowns" are dominant factors and for which there is no precedent. Despite what some opinion formers are saying, this is not like a recession. It is not like Sars. It is unprecedented in our lifetime. So a focus on scenario planning for the rest of this year is crucial. The relative certainties that managers are accustomed to are impossible to count on.

But businesses that only focus on the short term can be expected to suffer more than those that can find the opportunity to think medium term. Now is the time to ask questions that include what the balance of brand versus performance media spend should be; the medium term outlook for the sector; and whether the brand should respond directly to the pandemic and how this should look.

So, as well as the long and the short of it, current planning should include, well, the medium of it.

Furthermore, there is also the very long term to consider. Many businesses are focused understandably on surviving 2020 and the current pressures. At this time, however, there is another crucial consideration. It isn’t just about the balance sheet for 2020. It is also about the shape of the business for the very long term – about preserving jobs, about caring for people, about putting people first. Now is a testing time for leaders. Now is the time not to lose sight of humanity for the sake of short-term KPIs.

Edelman and LinkedIn have just published a new guide to building consumer trust in uncertain times. In this, Rob Norman comments:  "If we fight to only minimise investor losses, the consequential loss in other parts of the business and eventually to the underlying assets will be catastrophic."

This is an important opportunity for businesses and brands to build affinity and earn loyalty for the long term. Empirical decision-making has a flaw at a time like this. There has never been a time like this before. We are in the midst of a "black swan" event. Brands should think medium term and longest term now and put people, their employees, their customers and the nation at the heart of their decision-making.

Sue Unerman is chief transformation officer at MediaCom
Picture: Getty Images