Nick Freer comment: Swallows hit new heights in time of global crisis

I’ve been flat out the last couple of weeks advising clients around corporate communications in light of our new business reality.

Nick Freer is a tech expert and founding director at Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners. Picture: Stewart Attwood

While some have been proactive or reactive in facing up to Covid-19, my rule of thumb advice is that if a client is making any kind of press announcement at the moment then it’s going to look pretty odd if there is no reference to how the business is being impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

For some organisations, the impact of the pandemic represents a full-on crisis situation, for others less so but every company is somewhere on the spectrum. What is certain is the importance of getting coronavirus-related communications right, or as near to right as possible. For those that get it wrong, the negative brand impact may not go away anytime soon.

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I was discussing this with a client, UserTesting’s vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Bruce Hunter, last week. UserTesting launched in Edinburgh last July, the first time a Silicon Valley-headquartered technology company had set up here. Last month, the company whose platform enables organisations to get feedback on products and services from consumers on-demand, secured its latest investment round to the tune of $100 million and made its first European acquisition in the form of Oslo-based multilingual start-up Teston.

In the wake of the pandemic, UserTesting has introduced a free-use service so organisations can access its platform to test how well they are doing, or otherwise, at communicating with customers and stakeholders during the outbreak. It’s one great example of how companies can support the business scene amid the current health crisis. When we all come out of this horrendous situation, it’s also the kind of approach that will lead to a lot of goodwill in the bank.

Care Sourcer is a good example of a Scottish tech start-up that has gone above and beyond in adapting its offering in the collective fight against the pandemic. The comparison and matching site for elderly care is not only helping to find care for people exiting hospitals across the UK, it’s also aggregating data that is going to help the health sector better understand developing trends in the weeks and months ahead.

On a Product Tank Edinburgh webinar supported by Deliveroo, Skyscanner and xDesign last week, Care Sourcer CEO Andrew Parfery used animal analogies to describe how companies can choose to face up to the current crisis – you can be a bear and go into hibernation, a deer caught in the headlights, a swallow that is highly agile or a chameleon that changes its colour altogether. I’ll admit to having had a few “bear” and “deer” moments myself these last few weeks, while trying to be the “swallow” Care Sourcer’s CEO describes.

While UserTesting and Care Sourcer adapt to a new business reality globally and in the UK respectively, some of the stories of more hyperlocal pivots to address the current situation have caught the eye recently. One incredible social enterprise that came onto my own radar last week is Tranent-based Heavy Sound, who primarily work with young people who have experienced trauma or barriers, helping them to re-engage through projects involving hip-hop, song writing, DJ’ing, music production and band work.

Heavy Sound can’t go into schools to deliver its programmes at present but CEO and founder Jordan Butler realised he had staff and resources who were “available and willing” and wanted to help the most vulnerable people in our society. One initiative Butler and Heavy Sound has initiated is with the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) to deliver food the EICC has in its kitchens for events that can no longer now take place.

Thanks goodness for amazing people and businesses like this at this time. God bless the swallows.

- Nick Freer is a founding director at Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners

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