2020: A Year For Reflection and Resilience
Author: Ryan Szwejbka, President of Reunion Marketing
Growth was intended to be Reunion’s theme of the year, but that quickly changed to adaptability and resilience. We hit the ground running in the first quarter with some of the fastest growth in our history and coming off of a successful NADA conference. Then came mid-March and the stay-at-home orders in North Carolina and across the country. As 25% of our business evaporated seemingly overnight, suddenly the year wasn’t about growth but survival. Our first priority was ensuring our team’s safety and health, so we quickly shut-down our office and moved to operating remotely. Once we converted our workforce to being remote, we could focus on the health of our business and our clients and partners.
Our leadership team wasn’t in decision-making positions during the 2009 financial crisis, but the challenges that the last recession imposed on our early careers and the lessons shared during our education wouldn’t allow us to ignore the inevitability of the next recession. Since 2018, our company’s priority was to aggressively save and prepare Reunion for an eventual economic downturn. We got lean and cut unnecessary expenses, converted costs to be more variable, invested in automations, saved cash, and created contingency plans. Our goal was to avoid lay-offs at all costs.
While we felt well-prepared, we watched as the worst-case scenarios in our contingency plans became close to reality in a span of two weeks. But we have company core values of Grit and Elevate Others for a reason, and those values were exhibited time and time again by our team as everyone quickly sacrificed without delay. Our entire staff deferred their typical raises in April; we took on more work due to expense cutting; our executive team took temporary pay cuts; and we checked in on one another more and offered one another support wherever we could. This selflessness of our team helped us survive the early unknowns of this crisis and allowed us to quickly respond to needs as they arose.
The gratitude we feel for our clients and partners is unmatched. As they faced shutdowns, inventory disruptions, COVID illnesses, and threats to their own businesses, they stuck with us and believed in the digital marketing investments they were making. We wouldn’t have made it this far or survived this long without the commitment from our clients. Our team worked harder for our clients than ever before, working longer hours and making all the changes necessary to reflect this new world in which we found ourselves. We maintained our focus on Unrivaled Customer Service and commitment to results, and that never matters more than when it may be more convenient to “take it easy.” Instead, we doubled down on this commitment to our customers, stretching our resources further and committing to be available for them as they faced disruptions.
As working from home became a bit more normal, our nation once again faced brutal realities of racism and the ongoing fight for social justice. With protests sweeping the nation, including our home city of Raleigh, we began to ask ourselves some tough questions: “What could we be doing better?”; “Where are our own biases?”; and “How could we better contribute to a company culture of diversity and inclusion?” We made a commitment to our team to strive towards being a more positive force in our communities and to keep working on creating a diverse and inclusive organization. Progress is never made overnight, and we know there is always more to do, but this is a commitment we are making in perpetuity. Some of the investments we’ve made this year include:
- Adding another company holiday to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, bringing our total company holidays to 11.
- Expanded our scholarship and recruiting program in the North Carolina community to include schools that offer us a diverse background of candidates: Shaw University, North Carolina State University, and UNC Wilmington.
- Invested in a dedicated Human Resources team to provide more accountability and improvement to our HR processes.
- Creation of Reunion’s Culture Committee to focus on the four pillars of Community Involvement, Reunion’s Community, Alignment, and Recognition.
- Provided our team access to Diversity & Inclusion learning opportunities.
- Provided a mental health webinar with our partners at Modern Health.
- Invested in ongoing leadership training and coaching opportunities for many members of our team.
After the initial shock of pandemic shut-downs, we were able to take inventory of the hit we had taken. We again looked towards the future and the investments we needed to make to be strong in the coming years. We didn’t want to make decisions out of the fear and unknowns; instead, we began to reinvest and take more risks. Our investments in the following areas will support us long into the future:
- Zero layoffs to help us ramp back up after shutdowns began to ease and business picked up.
- Raises given to the entire staff after the initial delay.
- Development of a Fixed Operations product, PRO Drive, to deliver marketing success to our clients’ service departments.
- Hiring of three department Directors to join our leadership team: Amy Peck (Client Success), Jessica Dee (Paid Search), and Giancarlo Montenegro (Social Media).
- Investment in the Agile Transformation of our team’s workflows and processes with our agile consultant.
- Growth of our own internal marketing team.
- New hires in many departments of our company to invest for growth in the future.
As the end of the year approaches, we are incredibly grateful. We are thankful for our amazing team, our clients, our partners, and our friends and family. We don’t know when we’ll be out of these tough times, but we do know that we are stronger, more resilient, more aware, more compassionate, and more empathetic as a result of 2020. In every obstacle, there is an opportunity. That is why our core values of Comfortable being Uncomfortable and Continuous Improvement have helped guide us this year as we faced challenges.