Pivoting to success in a crisis
The impacts of the ongoing Covid crisis have been many and varied.
One of the more frivolous has been how it has introduced a range of new words and phrases into the everyday lexicon.
For the generation that has lived through this moment in history, words like lockdown, quarantine, furlough and even pandemic itself will carry so much more meaning than they did before we have ever heard of Covid-19.
In a business environment, one of the words we are hearing a lot at the moment is pivot.
It is far from being a new word and has long described that process when a business changes its direction or approach to respond to unfavourable economic conditions, a surge in competition or responding to a previously hidden opportunity.
In a world where nothing is very certain and people are behaving and thinking differently to how they have ever behaved or thought before, it is no surprise that there is an awful lot of pivoting going on.
History is filled with companies and organisations that have successfully pivoted but it is also a process that is fraught with potential pitfalls, from undermining your hard-earned brand to alienating the customers who have been key to your success up to that point.
However, in times of adversity, being able to adapt and evolve may not just be the difference between survival and demise but in many instances, the outcome can be a business or organisation that is better than before.
As the saying goes, businesses are very much like relationships – bad ones fall apart in a crisis, good ones get by and great ones are better because of it.
This is certainly the case for the Cheltenham Literature Festival, an internationally important annual event that celebrates the very best in global literature every October and one that we were privileged to be involved in this year.
The event is part of Cheltenham Festivals, which also includes the excellent jazz, science and music festivals and like for so many people and organisations, 2020 has not been a kind year.
However, having had to cancel the three previous events, the organisers developed a new hybrid approach so that while some of their 160 events would continue to be live to a socially distanced audience, all would be livestreamed for free to a new global audience or viewers could pay £20 and watch the events at their leisure over the next three months.
The response to this innovation, both from the literary world and its audience, was nothing short of outstanding.
The packed festival programme included 290 authors and speakers and was full of great names from Malcolm Gladwell to Mary Beard, the venues were as full as guidelines permitted and the streaming figures beat even the most optimistic of expectations with more than 200,000 viewers.
The organisation and commitment to changing the direction of the festival was a huge undertaking and relied not just on an incredible amount of hard work but also the belief of all involved that the event could not just be delivered but that it would actually create something that was better than before.
Through establishing a clear vision, supporting it with strong messaging that took their customers on their journey with them and then delivering an exemplary product that exceeded expectations, the festival managed to turn adversity completely on its head.
The approach was as brave as it was creative and the result is a template for a future that will enable the festival to reach into places that it was never possible before, opening an exciting new chapter where the sky’s the limit.
The impacts of the Covid crisis may be many and varied but there is no doubt that the experience of Cheltenham Literature Festival offers a fantastic lesson that we can all learn from as we pivot in our own ways to respond and overcome the challenges of today.