“Navigating The Crisis” originally appeared on Sara Fitzmaurice’s Linkedin page. Fitzmaurice is the CEO & Founder at FITZ & CO, a global strategic agency for clients in art, tech, hospitality and luxury founded in 1995.
The world was a very different place in 1995, and I was a very different person when I founded my business, FITZ & CO, that year. As a 26-year-old entrepreneur, I “grew up” through my business and measured my growth in relation to my peers of the early days who are now leaders in our field—museum directors, major gallery owners, editors-in-chief, and leaders in finance, real estate, tech and luxury. I didn’t go to business school and learned by listening and doing.
I have navigated my clients’ businesses and my own through 9/11, the stock market crash of 2008, Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and the Zika virus outbreak in 2016. Moreover, my team and I managed (and prevented) scores of crises for individual clients by anticipating and preparing for what was to come. Since the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, we have been on the front line with clients in Asia, helping them navigate some of the first major cancellations and postponements to hit our industry.
Over the years, I have learned that getting out ahead, keeping in communication, being creative and pivoting where you need to, are key to navigating this kind of challenging business environment.
Getting out ahead requires not panicking. People frequently remark on how calm I remain when faced with a difficult situation. For me, this is inborn and essential to crisis management, and it has served our clients and our business well. Face the fear and know that there is always a way through, day by day. I intentionally challenge myself to go down the rabbit hole: What is our worst fear? What is the worst that can happen? Articulate it to yourself and to another trusted advisor and work backward from there. Figure out what you can control and focus on that. Whatever you can’t control, let it go, consciously. Make the best possible decision(s) with the information available each day. That’s what you can control. You will likely have to make tough decisions too. If you do, make them thoughtfully to benefit the most people, and then communicate them clearly to your team, your stakeholders and your audience.
As we guide our clients in this crisis, we are hearing similar questions: How can we raise money in this climate? How can we sell art and design now that our gallery is closed, and the art fairs are cancelled or postponed? How can we connect with our client base to make sales of art or luxury products? How can we launch our start-up or our new initiative? How can we support our clients and/or our community? How can we stay relevant? How can we move our efforts online? What if we have to lay people off? What if we have to close? Know that you are not alone in asking these questions. These are challenging questions, but there is a way through.
Remember that emotions are running high—yours and those of your team, clients, donors, board members, and the public. Avoid decisions that are made impulsively, under the influence of emotions such as anxiety, fear, anger, or panic. Take a breath, sleep on it, look at it again in the morning. Get the input of your team, include them in tough decisions, when you can. Be vulnerable to a trusted colleague and ask for their input. Be humble, listen, and try to find empathy.
And communicate. The world leaders and corporate CEOs we trust communicate proactively, consistently, humbly and with as much transparency as they can. Segment your audiences— whether it be your major donors, members, artists, top clients and buyers, or the public. Break them down into parts and communicate tailored messages to each of them. For your most important relationships, call or video chat with them. Let them know you care and that you are there for them through this crisis. Develop communications across all of your channels such as direct emails, social media, and your website.
Stay relevant, and don’t be repetitive, out of touch or tone deaf. What do you want to say to your audiences, and what do they want and need to hear from you? Think about the various recipients and how they will respond. Consider your communications through different lenses: What message am I sending to my team, my clients, our stakeholders or the public? To our audiences in China, in Italy, or in New York City? Consider including a “call to action,” but make sure it feels appropriate. It may be OK to send a “call to action” to donors if you’re a struggling non-profit, but it may not be the time for a direct “call to action” for buying art, design or luxury goods. Think about “marketing” vs. “sales.” Continue to be active and engaged, but don’t be insensitive.
Remember that internal communication with your team is as important as external communication. You are likely working remotely and communicating via FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom. See them and make them feel seen. Many of your team may be millennials: they are young, possibly away from their families, and this may be the first time they’ve experienced such a crisis. They may be worried or in denial, or a bit of both. Your older team members have families, mortgages, and big responsibilities. They too are worried. Reassure where you can, and offer as much positive feedback as possible. Be open if you don’t have an answer to their questions. Create lighter and more uplifting team moments with Zoom happy hours or a team Slack channel to share books, movies, memes, etc. They need a strong, present leader.
Pivot. Every day, we are working with our clients to pivot and transform how they have been doing things. Many initiatives and activations must be shifted online, and others are not appropriate and should be put on hold. We are pivoting our own service offering to adapt to what our clients need today: crisis communications, strategy, and digital marketing. You either quickly adapt to the new normal or survival becomes more imperiled. Now is not the time to resist change.
Finally, on a personal note, I have weathered crises by embracing a deep sense of faith. I am not religious, but I do practice choosing to have faith that the future remains bright. Included in that is finding any positive aspect, big or small, and focusing on it. Celebrate it—it tends to multiply. For me, a silver lining is that I don’t have to travel for work and leave my kids right now. I have been trying new recipes and eating more meals together with my kids. I have had meaningful FaceTime conversations with friends and family. My team has been able to support and guide our clients in positive ways. I have seen my team rise to the challenge in spite of their own anxiety and fears and show up every day for themselves, each other and our clients. I know that we will be OK. There have been and will be some undoubtedly tragic outcomes of the pandemic. And my heart aches for those. Some good will come out of this period in the long run. There will be some interesting disruptions that will change the way we do business, and some of those will prove to be positive and last long after this period. There will be a lot of challenges and losses along the way, but I still have faith we will overcome together.
To learn how Chinese institutions are navigating the crisis click here.