FCB’s creative dynamism soars despite COVID-19 constraints

Graham Johnson's headshot

How does a large international agency like FCB (Foote, Cone & Belding) pivot on a dime to respond to a global pandemic?

Graham Johnson—Chief Product Officer of the FCB Health Network and member of Workfront’s CAB (Customer Advisory Board)—graciously took some time to tell us all about it. FCB Health Network is a subset of 2,500 people around the world who focus on marketing in healthcare—primarily working with pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

Right now in advertising, there are certain industries in higher demand than ever—and some are FCB clients. “We have clients who manufacture paper products and disinfectants and those are extraordinarily important to our day-to-day lives”, says Graham. On the other hand, industries like travel and hospitality have been hit hard. FCB Health’s client base falls somewhere in the middle.

FCB’s people-first response centers on remote adaptation.

Because FCB implemented a work management solution—a single platform that connects all facets of work—well in advance of COVID-19, the agency quickly prepared business continuity plans when the coronavirus started making headlines. “All of us are facing lots of challenges and each of us has our definition of the new normal. Our first priority is ensuring all our employees are safe and healthy. That’s been at the forefront” Graham says.

Keeping people safe means keeping them home right now. During the first couple of weeks transitioning to remote work, employees felt the culture shock—in-person work is the norm in agency life.

“Work from home hasn’t been embraced widely in agencies. One-on-one meetings, adding personal touches, and creative brainstorming—these things have traditionally been done in person,” Graham shares.

For many at FCB, transitioning to virtual work means learning how to connect to VPNs, share files, and use collaboration software. After quieting the IT fires, Graham had to get creative with ways to empower the team’s specialized capabilities while remote—building experiences for events, leading workshops completely online, and filming customer testimonials.

“If there’s a silver lining at the end of all of this, I think it’ll be that we’ve learned how to work in different ways. We’ve had to figure out how to repurpose physical assets in a virtual space. Many companies have experienced digitization overnight. Necessity truly is the mother of invention.”

Limitations fuel creativity, and Graham’s team is discovering that fact everyday—especially in production.

“One of the most valuable assets we provide to our clients is patient testimonials. We usually fly a small crew out to film them, but obviously we can’t do that in our current climate. It wouldn’t be safe. Instead, we’ve been shipping ready-to-go film equipment to patients. They don’t have to mess with the settings or worry about changing the batteries. We walk them through backdrops and lighting as we listen in. Then they record themselves!”

When it comes to people rising to the challenge, FCB’s production crew takes the cake for innovation.

Five pillars of sudden-remote-working success.

Here’s how Graham and FCB are leading their people through the crisis successfully:

  1. Keep key leaders visible and communication going. FCB set up a town hall webcast so Dana Maiman, CEO/President of FCB Health, could address the situation in person. Graham’s team set up and coordinated the event in just a few days, and over 2,000 employees attended. “Dana is a force of nature and is one of the main reasons we’ve been so successful,” Graham says. “It means a lot to have her leadership, presence and reassurance.”
  2. Maintain a sense of personal connection. When 1,200 people who normally share an office are suddenly figuring out how to work from home, communication is more vital than ever before. “The first week, I probably talked to 500-600 employees,” Graham says. “I wanted to get a finger on the pulse of how things were going so I could figure out how to pivot and get people the resources they need.”
  3. Invest in the right resources. FCB has invested in virtual meeting technology and reallocated resources so specialized employees (like the production team) have the tools they need to continue doing their jobs remotely. The right tools empower fast adaptation while maintaining executional excellence.
  4. Try tools you already have, but don’t normally use. Graham’s team had access to tools like Microsoft Teams already, but adoption was just beginning to gain momentum. After the pandemic hit, “FCB did 45,000 meetings in Microsoft Teams last week alone. It’s become an important tool for us.”
  5. Encourage levity and humanity. “Being invited into people’s homes has been the most amazing experience out of all this. My team is on video conferences from their living rooms, bedrooms—and, it didn’t happen to me, but I even heard of someone locking themselves in their car to take a call because it was the only place they could escape from their kids!” Graham says, laughing.

Make time for what matters most.

Graham says he’s learning to approach work differently. He’s currently working on eliminating mundane work with tighter integration between Workfront and other apps.

“We started that journey because we wanted to give time back to our employees to focus on what’s important. Before, I was trying to give them back more time to concentrate on high-value work. Now, I want to give them back that time to spend with their families and give back to their communities—which is perhaps a more powerful way to think about all this.”

A special thank you to Graham for taking the time to share how both he and FCB are harnessing their creative prowess during the days of COVID-19. We continue to be inspired by Workfront customers like FCB, and leaders like Graham, who are guiding their people through an era of massive change with heart, humor, and success.

How are you and your company continuing to #workboldly together?