Tomorrow’s Business: 26th March 2020

Matthew Freud’s coronavirus email

The founder and chair of Freuds has promised to protect jobs and wages. In a thoughtful staff email, he says there has never been a more important time for comms and “we cannot mess this up”.

Dear Freudians, Brewerites, Republicans and The Atomised, The Misfits, The Branded and The Proud

This is a uniquely challenging time. By almost any measure, none of us have lived through a period of such uncertainty. What we know is scary enough, what we don’t know might be terrifying if we allow those bleak projections to be our imagined future.

So I wanted to tell you a little about how it looks to me and what I think our role is. Also to give you some reassurances, in so far as I am able, and to encourage you to take some comfort in the relative advantage of our position, for without doubt we all fall into the category of the substantially less messed up.

First off, let me share a guilty secret. I wouldn’t say I am enjoying this, but I am hugely energised by aspects of it. I have found the world to be a very troubling place over the last few years. It looked to me like our world was in serious trouble, but by and large the mood music was jolly.

I found Brexit almost impossibly vexing, how could we be committing an act of such comprehensive stupidity and pretending otherwise? I saw the climate change emergency and thought Greta wasn’t angry enough, and yet the issues were being politely discussed in alpine retreats and well catered events (in many cases by us!) and seemed to be approached like an irritation rather than an existential threat. The economy has felt so fragile to me and social injustice screaming from every news story, but the complacency and inertia was overwhelming. The stock markets were flying (I don’t do shares) and the cloud of smug emanating from the global elite was contributing to the toxic air quality that is choking our children. I couldn’t make sense of the disconnect between what I saw and what I heard.

The purpose platform and Global Goals work that we have almost singularly focused our efforts on over the last couple of years were in many ways my response to what as I saw as a desperate need with unimaginable jeopardy if it wasn’t met.

It seems to have taken COVID-19 to bring the world to its senses. It may even have cured the other epidemic of HUBR-15 which has been rampantly spreading through certain sections of society.

The way I see it, the Corona Virus has forced us to confront the massive problems that we weren’t dealing with, even though it was obvious that we needed to.

The NHS has been on its knees for the last couple of years, really desperately in need of investment and innovation. That will happen because of COVID 19.

The old, vulnerable and marginalised in our communities have also been neglected. They are the people that will be hurt hardest from the pandemic, but guess what, they were suffering the most anyway. All of the sacrifices that we will make for them through the disruption of the next few months will compensate for how little we have done for them as a society in the recent past.

The economic devastation that is beginning to break like a tsunami over us is triggered by COVID 19, but it is not because of COVID 19. The insanity of a market led economy that only thought about profit for the last decade has left millions in the perilous state that only now will be recognised and addressed.

The social exclusion that we are all getting used to seems like another metaphor for the social neglect that we have all been guilty of for years. I am guessing that for most of us, the next few months will see us engage more with our neighbours and colleagues on a human basis, than before physical contact was banned.

If you want to really exhaust the conceit, the danger to the developed world from China’s exploding economy has been building and threatening for a decade. The virus is just a proxy for the dangers of an over-connected world with very different cultures and agendas and so few checks and balances

But I am hopeful that in dealing with the emergency of this virus, we will finally be forced to deal with the much greater systemic problems that have been swept under the carpet for too long.

Turns out we can reduce carbon emissions by 50% overnight when we have to!

We can prioritise the elderly and vulnerable when it matters most

We can pump money and care into the NHS

We can support people who are disposable to their employers

We can subsidise companies that face massive challenges trying to deal with disruptive technologies and global competitors unburdened by taxes or the need to be profitable

Perhaps most importantly, we can pull together as a nation and a community to overcome almost any obstacle.

I am not happy that COVID 19 is here, but I genuinely believe that the world on the other side of it will be more functional, more human and more honest than the Trumpian, Brexiteering pantomime of the last 4 years.

BUT, we have to get through it.

I believe we have cause for some confidence and optimism here too.

I feel a bit like the owner of an umbrella company in a sudden and sustained period of intense rain. We aren’t immune to the effects of what is going on, but we are better equipped to navigate it than most.

Our earliest crisis work usually involved a celebrity, an ill-advised shag and The News of the World. Then as our work became more product orientated, the key ingredients were usually terrible hygiene, soiled product and the daily mail. The corporate iterations were boardroom battles and fiduciary failings. But for the last 20 years the worst thing you could ever hear was “You should call Matthew Freud”. We have been the go to place for the world’s distressed and disgraced providing a full suite of services to make the best of whatever mess our friends and clients have got themselves into.

We are very very good at crisis work. We stay calm and focused. We analyse and strategise and formulate and execute. We will always try and deliver the best possible outcome.

I know lots of you have been, like me, knee deep helping our clients navigate the emergency of the pandemic and its impacts on their businesses, customers and workforce. But the bit that I am enjoying is the conversation that follows the stabilisation of their company. How can they help? Decades of talking to clients about purpose, about social responsibility, about the need for companies to be accountable and willing to serve all their stakeholders, not just their shareholders.

Well, THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

All those panels at Davos and press releases about initiatives to reduce things, or increase other things or support good causes. Now is the time when they have to demonstrate that it wasn’t just rhetoric. Every single company that we work with is actively engaged in doing as much as they can to assist in this effort. I have finished every day for the last two weeks proud of their courage and commitment and proud of our role in helping them to articulate and execute it.

Freuds and Brewery companies are actively working with the NHS, the Home Office, Number 10, DoH, PHE, City Hall, UNHCR, World Health Organisation, Gates Foundation, Community Jameel, Islamic Development Bank and of course dozens of companies, brands and individuals to help the collective effort to tackle COVID 19.

WE GOT THIS

There may never be a time when our contribution and expertise has been put to better use, and although exhausted, stressed, scared and daunted, I am so proud to have the opportunity to play a role and determined to do everything I can to not mess it up.

Pride in what we have built and how we have used it will follow but I am not complacent and know it will take an incredible effort from all of us to rise to the tasks ahead.

I beg you to increase your effort and work ethic over the coming months. It might be easy for some people to look at homeworking and social exclusion as an excuse for an extended holiday, but not us. We are key workers, anyway you look at it. I am depending on you and the country is depending on us to do everything we can to contribute. It is our responsibility, but more than that it is an opportunity for us to meaningfully help and I would be heartbroken if we didn’t deliver.

Finally to the reassurances.

We are a strong private company.

We are completely committed to our work and our people.

We will not lay off anyone during this period.

We will not reduce salaries.

We will not ask you to ‘share the pain’ of what will be tough economic times, any more than your share of the rewards of our success (that is a tactful way of saying there will be less parties, bonuses and treats).

We will support you in any way that we can.

If you get sick, we will try and make sure you get everything you need.

That goes for your families and dependants too.

If you are struggling, we will help.

It is easy to talk about values. But at times like these, it is not talk that matters.

I am resolute in ensuring that freuds and the brewery companies will make the best of this mad episode and that includes the welfare of our entire community.

We can only do this together.

We will.

With love,

Matthew

– Ends –

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