17th March 2020. The day Ikea turned up with our new meeting room table. It was also the day we lost around 15% of our fee income as I received three calls from COVID crushed clients putting us on hold.

Later that evening there was a fleeting moment of panic and a single bead of cold sweat working its way down the back of my neck. That was to be the last time I’d allow any semblance of fear to enter my mind.

Back in January I had to undergo some rather invasive tests following a prolonged period of illness. My fervent imagination had convinced my rational mind I had the big C. Of course, I didn’t, but the fear was almost overwhelming – right up until the camera was inserted. At that point I was resolved, whatever the result, I would fight.

The imagined is always more powerfully frightening than reality. Even the most dreadful realities of life, I can and have, dealt with. The chimerical – that shit will fuck you up, trust me. Some of you will have read about my own journey towards better mental health.

18th March 2020. I abandoned my previous plan to work on the suppository table* and turned my full intention to a much bigger (yet bizarrely less daunting) project – ‘Project Indispensable’.

In every financial crisis I have lived through (thinking this is my third) marketing is generally one of the first to suffer and the last to recover. It is often regarded as a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must have’ particularly for boards densely populated with accountants.

My job, our job, was to make marketing a must have. The team knew we had two choices – let the waves of the crisis crash over us and hope we can hold onto some driftwood. Or, we fight, we strive to add even more value, to be even more creative, to show the difference we could make to help our clients keep their own lights on. In truth that was the only choice I presented them with. We had to become indispensable – we had to show our clients what they would gain by sticking with us, and the cost of the lost opportunity if they didn’t.

We had to show intent – we had to work harder and go more metaphorical miles that ever. We had to demonstrate integrity in our behaviour, our thinking, and the outcomes we delivered. And we had to regularly dish out a load of ingenuity – invent and execute ideas no-one had thought of yet. If we did that, we would become indispensable. Or at least, be a little bit harder to fire.

Monday marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week. What timing! People are giving their lives and leaving loved ones behind just so others can live. That is just about the strongest example of what good mental health can bring the world.

So, the least I can do is be resilient – resist the inevitable temptation to cry into my beer and bemoan the challenges COVID has brought is all. I owe it to my team, to my clients, and to myself to be a fearless leader.

So far at least, ‘Project Indispensable’ is working. The team are creating some inspired ideas and working long hours to deliver them. Clients are reporting unprecedented levels of engagement as a result of our initiatives. I spend all my days in Zooms/Hangouts/Teams, consulting, advising and supporting clients, while surreptitiously trying to work out what titles they have on their obligatory bookshelf backdrops.

Quite rightly the focus to date has been on the physical and mental health of the nation. Now the attention must ‘pivot’ (had to get that BS in somewhere) from health to wealth. Sales are down everywhere, apart from in yeast, and so cashflow will become even more critical in the next quarter. Our work to date will have been for nothing if we cannot sustain ‘ProjectIndispensable’ and that is another challenge I will not be running away from.

*Put it up yourself

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Paul W – May 2020