Learning the art of “the pivot”: short term planning for long term success

Learning the art of “the pivot”: short term planning for long term success

April 2, 2020 | By: Holland Baird, Head of Marketing

How do you prepare for something that you’ve never experienced before? They didn’t cover this in class. Google doesn’t have the answer, either.

At the onslaught of the COVID-19 crisis in Asia and Italy, the iU marketing team — less than a year old — was hitting its stride. Between the iU animation sizzle reel and the launch of the #MadeIt Women’s History Month series, our content programming was on fire. We were also creating exciting Gen Z engagement content for students participating in Campus Movie Fest, and were about to promote the production of three pilots for DC You Unscripted

In what felt like the blink of an eye, it all faded away when we realized the severity of COVID-19. 

I was in the midst of building an executive keynote presentation for the 2020 NAB Show when they announced their cancellation. We were sent home on Friday of that same week, and we’ve been working remotely ever since. 

So, we pivoted. The marketing team went into crisis communications mode: spearheading the cancelation communications plans for three separate events, pausing our content calendars, and building new content to inform students and partners of the recent changes. We never stopped or shied away. Our nerves are still intact. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic has turned everything upside down, I’ve been inspired by the unity and support we’ve seen.

As such, it sparked a realization — as we’re adjusting to this new normal, we’re also pivoting our plans for future marketing campaigns. And so, accommodating “the pivot” has become an added step in our marketing strategies for our partners. By no means have we mastered the art of the pivot, but we have established key takeaways for achieving long-term success utilizing short-term planning methods. 

Accept change. And remember that additional change is inevitable. While we know, and hope, this is a temporary adjustment, it’s necessary to break the habit of building long-game strategies, content calendars, and built-in approval periods. Plan out what you can control in a shifting market. Adapt, and keep a flexible stance. 

Plan for pivots. Rather than map it out in the most direct course of action, build in pivot-points to accommodate any surprises. Instead of a direct course, the new plan should incorporate dashed, zig-zag patterns that will still reach the finish line if any roadblocks were to interrupt the direct path. And, at these pivot-points, have a couple of options ready to support the re-route, keeping things moving. 

Listen. Employ social listening to learn what’s relevant, monitor tone and sensitivities, and learn what not to do. Listen to your partners to better understand their concerns and how they are being impacted so you’re armed with the best solution for them. Listen to leadership and your colleagues — right now nothing is off the table; their idea may be the perfect solution for your partner’s needs.

There’s no time like the present. Move in real-time and with realistic plans, every minute counts, so cut out unnecessary chatter, meetings, and, if need be, unnecessary party members. Tighten the group to tighten the timeline and keep things moving. 

Over-communicate. Check in with partners often, make your presence known, and reassure them that you are actively developing solutions. On that same note, be present and transparent with your team members. Continue strategizing, repeating next steps multiple times, to make sure everyone involved understands, knows their responsibilities, and is aware of the timeline. Check-in again and repeat the process. 

Finally, take care of yourself. Practice patience, thoughtfulness, and remember to take time to reset. During these trying times, we’re all dealing with added pressures and new challenges; workdays are longer as a lot of us are working remotely, and I’m sure the workweek also bleeds into the weekend. If possible, step away from the email inbox, social media, and news to check in with others, take a walk, or play a game with the kids. At the end of the day, we need to be able to lead and support our partners and team members. 

Never could I have imagined that I’d experience a global crisis or, rather, a global lockdown. But I found relief in knowing I wasn’t experiencing this uncertainty alone. Each day brings new challenges, but each day is an exciting opportunity to learn, grow, and find creative solutions. Even during this uncertain time, there’s a comfort in knowing we’re all in this together.