Walpole Editorial | Why businesses must show solidarity with China by Chloé Reuter

“The feeling in China is that of isolation and misunderstanding by the outside world. Is the situation serious? Yes. Is it being handled with the goal of resolution as swiftly as possible? Yes.”

With Chinese customers accounting for 33% of global luxury sales, many businesses are understandably concerned about the impact of the Coronavirus. Walpole asked China specialist Chloé Reuter, founding partner of Reuter Communication, for her advice for luxury brands.

It’s been a month since the coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it’s officially known, started dominating front page news around the globe. The last few weeks have been testing for all people and businesses in China, and the repercussions are felt by countries and businesses far from China too. The virus’ global impact highlights China’s importance. Brands and retailers are not only disrupted in China with store closures and people confined to their homes, but they are also facing a huge challenge outside China as travellers are no longer visiting, and spending.

For me too, this situation presents a significant personal and business challenge. I have been living in China for the last 20 years. It is home. It is also where, 10 years ago,  I founded Reuter Communications, a digital communications agency working with luxury brands.  We employ over 100 people: the majority of our staff are from China and based in our HQ in Shanghai. I was in the US on holiday for Chinese New Year in January when airlines started canceling flights, and countries closed their borders to anyone who had been in China during the last two weeks. Since then schools have closed in China with no opening date on the horizon. Our Shanghai-based staff are working remotely and I am now in London watching the situation and supporting our clients with their recovery plans.

So what should businesses and brands do right now? We have broken it down into three key areas:

1 – MONITOR AND EVALUATE

Understanding the reality of the situation is vital in any crisis. You must put in place a robust system to monitor and evaluate the unfolding status. This may include

– Market scans: See what other brands in the sector are doing. This does not mean that one brand should copy another, but gauging what others are doing in terms of their communications – and observing reaction – is a helpful way to be on the right path.
– Assess events: Many events have been canceled or postponed. The list gets longer by the day: Shanghai and Beijing Fashion weeks, Art Basel HK, Design Shanghai, the Tokyo Marathon, etc. Some key events have been postponed until May, which is hopefully an indication that we may we back to normal by then.
– Pay attention to government communications: Both national and local level authorities are providing advice and direction on an almost daily basis in terms of how businesses should respond and act during this time – from official opening dates and when employees can work, to notice on hosting events. Businesses must adhere to government policy. The UKDIT is also providing regular updates and support for British businesses.

2 – RESPOND SMARTLY

The feeling in China is that of isolation and misunderstanding by the outside world. Is the situation serious? Yes. Is it being handled with the goal of resolution as swiftly as possible? Yes.

A brand that is truly part of China should remain conscious of their customers’ sentiments. It’s wise to find a middle ground in terms of outgoing messaging that is in tune with the feelings of the time.

– Don’t remain silent: At such a time where such focus is on one issue – with China at the centre – stopping communications altogether and closing shop (unless advised by authorities) can be perceived as though you are running from China and insensitive to the situation. You should engage with both external and internal stakeholders to reassure and provide guidance where necessary.
– Show empathy in your communications: On commerciality, switch to more personal and emotional messaging. Speak with your people, teams and agencies on the ground and find out what they are going through. Corporate responsibility should now come in to its own.
– Communications should reflect your values: This is a time to live your positive values as a brand.
– Actions speak louder than words: Some brands are looking at CSR initiatives such as donations and product contributions. Think about whether to reduce the frequency of social media posts.
– Adapt your communications to the current sentiment: Create relevant content – and it doesn’t only have to be about donating funds or aid. Speak with agencies and even influencers who, previously collaborating on a commercial basis, can now feedback their feelings on the situation.

3 – PREPARE FOR RECOVERY

The coronavirus situation will improve and China will bounce back. When it does, your business needs to be ready and able to recover just as fast. After stringent travel restrictions Chinese travellers will be keen to explore new horizons and visit new destinations. Plan your events, map out your key messages and campaigns, develop localised creative content. Use this time to train teams with new skills. Getting ready now will speed up a brand’s ability to capture the momentum quickly.

Though the last few weeks have been turbulent, China is resilient and will recover. Now more than ever brands need to show commitment and support for the market which has become key to their development, and often, to which they owe their success.

For more information, please contact: chloe@reutercomms.com

CHLOÉ REUTER, FOUNDING PARTNER, REUTER COMMUNICATION

Chloé is Founding Partner of Reuter Communications, a luxury intelligence, digital, communications and marketing agency connecting luxury brands and businesses with Asia’s affluent consumer. With over 100 full time staff across Shanghai, Hong Kong, London and Singapore, the agency represents some of the world’s most celebrated luxury and premium brands including Harrods, Lanvin, Swire Hotels, The Estee Lauder Companies, Margiela and Vivienne Westwood. Chloé speaks, reads and writes fluent Chinese and is based in Shanghai.