Staff Writer
Advertising
Ogilvy Co-Chief Executive Chris Reitermann’s reflections on his Covid-19 journey

This article was originally published by Little Black Book, written by Laura Swinton.

As Wuhan opens back up and Covid-19 passes the 100-day mark, Ogilvy China CEO Chris Reitermann reflects on an unexpected journey.

In early February, Chris Reitermann was busy. Very busy. Coronavirus had taken hold in China, cities were under lockdown, and he and the team at Ogilvy China were helping their clients navigate lockdown and quickly adjust to a new reality – all the while leading his own agency which was scattered across the country in their homes, and in the homes of their parents. And as he did so, he realised that global marketers and colleagues in other countries could learn a lot from what was going on in the Middle Kingdom.

The only thing was, no one was particularly interested. There were only 2,000 infections outside of China and to the rest of the world, Covid-19 seemed like a very remote, very local issue.

A couple of months later and things look very different indeed. Today (April 8th) marks the 100th day since the World Health Authority was alerted to an unknown new pathogen taking hold in Wuhan. Now, there have been over 1.45m confirmed cases of the disease worldwide, with over 83,000 deaths. Europe and the US are desperately trying to flatten the curve of the illness and businesses are racing to pivot – while in China, offices are opening up again and Wuhan has, finally, emerged from lockdown.
Now that the rest of the world has caught up to where China was six weeks ago, Chris also notices a curious disconnect between the realities on the ground and the messaging coming from global headquarters.

“We have this group… it’s kind of like an alcoholics anonymous group for China CEOs, not just in advertising but across all industries. We get together once a week on a call and everybody in China has the same problem – if you’re part of a global company your headquarters are preparing for Armageddon, basically, but at the same time you’re telling your people in China to get back to work and business as usual,” says Chris.

In any case, he says, while there was certainly a tightening of belts in China at the peak of the crisis, the client need for help – and consumer appetite for content – was higher than ever. “During this crisis, from a China perspective, there wasn’t a second where we had less to do – we had different things to do but we were busy like crazy every day,” he says. “Now I have a challenge in getting my global people to understand, first of all, yes the money might have gone down temporarily but the work hasn’t and we still need the people to do the work clients are asking for.”

For Chris, he’s now at a place where he can take stock about the progress that has been made, share insights and hope from home with the rest of the world – and consider why the impact of the disease might end up being a little different in China and APAC, compared with the Western Hemisphere.
“One of the interesting observations about how things happened in China and how they now happen in the rest of the world, is that I think China companies were much faster to adapt to this crisis,” he says. “Partly because they have gone through this before but it’s also, generally, a much faster-paced environment. In China, you deal with a crisis every day – not on this scale but something goes wrong every day.”

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