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NAVA+ & COVID-19: A Chat with Brian Estes
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NAVA+ & COVID-19: A Chat with Brian Estes

I’ve known Brian Estes for the better part of a decade.

 

As a freelance copywriter, I first met Brian as part of my freelance work for the DDB Indonesia team, way back in 2008. After working on half a dozen projects that involved Mr. Estes, I got to somewhat know what makes this graduate of journalistic studies from Baylor University, tick. 

 

In short, he’s a man with a plan. And he’s not afraid of executing said plan. 

 

Ten years down the line and Brian is currently Director of Corporate Affairs at NAVA+ —one of the leading creative agencies in Jakarta—, and I find myself on the end of a telephone interview with Brian, smack bang in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

As with the rest of the world, I’d been heavily intrigued by how this pandemic has collectively changed the way we go about our daily lives and how we conduct our businesses. 

 

The whole world had been turned upside down. 

 

And while I’ve tried to get a glimpse into its impact on a wide range of industries, I’m yet to have a full understanding on how it’s affecting the local creative industry, particularly for advertising agencies big and small. 

 

So I reached out to Brian and asked whether I could pick his brains to discuss this matter further. 

 

He agreed.

 

And Mr. Estes was as punctual as ever, standing by a good ten minutes before the start of the interview.  

 

Brian, thank you for taking the time to discuss this matter. As you know, I’m fascinated by how the novel coronavirus has shaped our world. In short, what is the status of NAVA+ now?

 

Well essentially, we have closed the office and are working from home, like so many other companies in Indonesia and around the world. Many projects from clients have been put “on hold” pending what most hope will be a fast recovery.

 

Naturally. But how did this all start? Please guide me what was going through your mind during the early days of the outbreak in Indonesia. 

 

Well, to begin with, it was the calm before the storm. I mean from around late February going into early March, there was so much conversation internally and externally, even around the world, about how big is this going to be. 

I mean in the past we’ve had the Middle Eastern flu (MERS), and that never really came to Indonesia in a significant way. And then there was of course the bird flu before that. But it wasn’t, anything like this. So, initially everyone was thinking ‘is it going to be another one of those’? Or is this going to be what people have been talking about for many years? 

I think in the early days it was the combination of confusion as well as an over-reaction and lack of reaction depending on one’s mood, and, one’s receiving of information. But I think it was even particularly complicated in Indonesia because there was this conversation going on for weeks about, how nobody in Indonesia had contracted this as if there was some Marvel super-human character, (laughter) who was standing over Indonesia blocking the virus. 

And then the first two cases were of course reported. And then things, as you know, started to go down hill from there. 

And what were the first actions that the Board of Directors took as the situation started to disintegrate? 

 

We all could see that something was happening, rapidly. Fortunately, we had business continuity plans as policies, but it required us to pull them out and dust them off and evaluate what was missing to deal with such a crisis. There was a lot of “should we or shouldn’t we” start shutting down the office, but in the end, I would say we were two weeks ahead of most companies in initiating Work From Home (WFH). 

 

We established rotation teams to physically work in the office. That dwindled down within two weeks to only essential rotation teams (Finance, IT and HR) and effective middle of last week, we moved to a full WFH mode. The first week of WFH was chaotic and at a senior management level, we were easily working 18 hour days. It did not get much better in the second week, but by the third week, the company had found equilibrium for such a condition. 

 

So if I’m correct, by early April the office was essentially closed, right? How was the business managed upon full WFH mode?

 

Indeed.

 

Think about it this way; how often does a client these days really come to our office anyway? Yes, sometimes for the essentials, but it’s certainly not so frequent. In essence we either do meetings remotely anyway by Skype, by email, by telephone or in the client’s premises.

 

So…how do we keep the business going? We do regular meetings with the clients, and I would say some clients are surprised when we have this; I mean there’s been a few television commercials done last month, even amongst the initial stages of work-from-home before it was fully closed by the government. 

 

How have the majority of clients reacted to all this?

 

Well we’re all essentially in the same boat.

 

Overall, most clients are well in postpone-mode; just postponing three weeks, six weeks, , you know, that kind of thing. It’s all very much a ‘wait-and-see’ sort of basis as definitive action isn’t always possible. 

 

Furthermore, in order to handle this further, we have initiated project Agile, which is composed of many senior and mid-level managers who are proactively approaching existing and new clients with COVID-19 initiatives which are tailored to the client and the current challenges. This has created many new relationships, opportunities and even some new business.

 

The interview is continued in further depth in part 2.

 

***

 

Born and raised in the U.S.A. Brian graduated with a Master’s degree in International Journalism from Baylor University. After his graduation, he later moved to Indonesia, where he has since chalked up three decades of working experience. In 1999 Brian co-founded Brainstorm Communications. He was subsequently instrumental in helping to orchestrate the simultaneous merger of Brainstorm Communications, Advisindo Artistika and DDB International to become DDB Indonesia where he served as Managing Director in 2001. In 2009, Brian helped found NAVA+ Group with David and Maneha. Brian’s varied brand experience includes airline services, as well as consumer goods, technology, medical & consumer goods, and the alcohol beverage category.