Like most CEOs, I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights lately. But trust in our industry is what will get us through

Stephen Leeds, like most CEOs, hasn’t slept well recently, worrying about the wellbeing and job security of staff. Here, he explains why trust is what will get us through COVID-19.

Despite strong headwinds and more turbulence to come, there is still reason to be optimistic that we will make it through one of the biggest social and economic challenges the world has seen – battered, bruised, but still able to stand up again.

I like to think that when this comes to an end, we will look back and realise that, along with an overwhelming sense of community and common sense, it was largely down to an investment in trust that was repaid when we needed it the most.

Trust in people to do the right thing, keep their distance and stay at home when told to do so.

Free to air TV stations have shown why they really are ‘partners’

Trust in ourselves to act quickly and not take unnecessary risks – no matter how harmless it may seem at times.

Trust in the government to offer financial stimulus and support to both individuals and businesses.

And trust in the industry we love so much.

It gives me a lot of joy that our clients, who we get out of bed for in the morning, are coming through for us in a time that we need them the most.

From Toyota (full disclosure: our own client), which stepped up to help those who might be suffering financial hardship.

To Woolworths, which demonstrated extraordinary leadership amidst panic buying and economic uncertainty by creating 20,000 jobs and remaining calm under pressure, when it unbelievably became a target of so much vitriol.

Along with Telstra and Rio Tinto, Woolies helped out companies such as Qantas who had to stand down a large number of staff as a result of the impact on business.

Foxtel and Optus, cognisant that people were spending more time at home, took advantage of this in a positive way and reduced costs or added value to make things slightly more bearable for those experiencing hardship.

Our media partners showed why they are partners for a reason. The free-to-air networks allowed flexibility with booking cancellations, despite their share price dropping sharply, and have kept us updated with regular updates and incentives to keep the economy going.

Facebook expanded its Community Help initiative and provided funding for fact checkers to ensure we were all kept up to date with relevant and correct information.

We saw ratings spikes in the news as people tuned in to them as a trusted medium, and although the commercial outlook for traditional channels is unclear, they came to their fore when people needed them the most.

Sadly, there were some casualties with one of the most trusted mediums, community newspapers, a victim as News Corp halted production.

And yet we saw an immediate response to this with the Judith Neilson Institute unveiling a support package proposal within hours of the news.

We saw a collective effort that reinforces why we are lucky to work in this industry.

And last, but certainly not least, there is trust in our staff. I think I speak for every CEO out there who hasn’t slept well recently, worrying not only for their future but the wellbeing of every individual on their books.

As WFH hopefully goes away and we just call it “working”, there is trust that our employees are doing the right thing. Not just continuing immaculate client service but checking in on each other – an R U OK? each day.

In an industry sometimes unfairly judged, it is truly rewarding to see trust front and centre.

A final word of trust and thanks must go to IT technicians everywhere. From Skype to Zoom to Houseparty, they have managed to keep the lines of communication open for everyone.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “If you’re going through hell, keep going and keep trusting”. I believe that we will get through the next few weeks and the next challenge we face.

Stephen Leeds is CEO of The Media Store


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