Telum Talks To… Mae Loon, Director and Head of Communications, Asia Pacific at Swiss Re
Telum caught up with Mae Loon, Director and Head of Communications, Asia Pacific, at Swiss Re as she shares her COVID-19 comms experiences and in particular how the pandemic brings out the best of communications.
Tell us how are things across Swiss Re’s APAC offices now?
The team at Swiss Re have adjusted really well, but at the same time, there are many of us who are looking forward to social interactions. Right now, it’s great to see our colleagues in China setting an example for us now that they are returning to work once a week and moving to a 50% capacity over the next few weeks. Hong Kong is also in a similar situation as colleagues there really like being back in the office - not just for the social interaction but also for practical reasons like a much more ergonomically friendly set up for work.
For the rest of us we feel encouraged and inspired to see how well China has bounced back from the COVID-19 pause. Despite not being able to meet in person, virtual "house parties" are making the rounds at Swiss Re as we introduce team members and other colleagues into our home offices.
How has it been like dealing with the media in the current situation?
When the news of the virus first broke out, things were quiet for us on the external front because we really wanted to, first, ensure staff were safe and well and then try to help at the epicentre in China, finding a credible local charity in Hubei to support. Some of our initial posts and tweets were actually those from staff sharing the care packages their received at home in March.
As the situation continued to evolve, we were cautious as the developments made it difficult to discuss financial implications as it was just too early to estimate. By the time the WHO announced the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic, we were ready to share information with the media. We made it known to the media that we were working through our pandemic modelling.
I know that when the outbreak first began, the media was a little disappointed as they were not getting the type of forward-looking certainty in answers they were after. Yes - they got the basics about the broad impact, but not the absolute numbers in terms of financial impact. However, we were transparent with them about it, that it was simply too early to predict such things. Honesty is the best policy, especially when dealing with our clients and the media regarding the things you don't have answers for, so we were clear to share what we knew but also equally clear on what we didn't know and couldn't predict.
During the time we were pulling together relevant information for the media and clients, we also deployed a Swiss Re COVID-19 consumer survey to get insight as to how people were feeling about insurance to be able to respond to their needs. This survey caught everyone's attention as it captured sentiment across APAC and is evidence that we really will only have meaningful information to share when we are able to look at the range of (very varied) reactions across APAC and capture sentiment across a meaningful period of time rather than just the initial shock.
We also shared the survey results with regulators as well as our full spectrum of stakeholders and partners to help them manage through the pandemic hand in hand with us. At the end of the day, the media, our clients and the public want to have information from a credible source.
How are you and your team across regions keeping sane and connected amid COVID-19?
The Swiss Re comms team in Asia spans Sydney across to Bangalore, and like many others, most of us have been in ‘quarantine’ at home. It's interesting for me as I hear the different experiences from the team as they get on with their day-to-day life through our WhatsApp chat. COVID-19 is no laughing matter, but we try to keep things fun and light there as a way to keep us going, so it's good.
Despite travel bans and not being able to see each other face-to-face, we are chatting with each other a lot more than before. Team members rallied to get a lovely video done to wish a colleague a great start to her parenthood journey on one of these calls.
Having to fire-fight as a team is a stressful bonding exercise on a daily basis, one from which strong teams will emerge even stronger. What I have also learnt is that everyone's journey during a crisis is different and leaders need to be able to respond to each individual on this journey as much as possible despite packed schedules as comms professionals.
It's really gratifying for me to see team members coming forward to do a tonne of extra work even though they're tremendously busy - not just with work but also home schooling kids or caring for their older relatives. I am happy to see that the team finds meaning in their work to make it possible for them all to come together and work as one despite the challenges we face.
Has the crisis change your perspective of communications?
I personally feel crises like this pandemic we are facing bring out the best of comms - I get to witness the team working collaboratively - and coming up with new formats and ideas as everyone jumps in to pick up different pieces of work.
Comms today is not just about media engagement, social media buys, or internal comms in their silos, it's a function that now needs to come together and bring to bear the best of branding and advertising, campaigning, marketing and media relations as well as staff engagement and storytelling. Our engagement spans across media, regulators, staff, the general public and customers in so many different formats and channels. We have our ears to the ground for changes but also have our finger on the pulse of how various channels can be best leveraged in crisis.
I'm sure many other communications teams are also on the same journey - so kudos to every comms professional out there doing what each and every one of you does best.