CEO reflections: pandemic lessons that drive growth | Greg Isbister, CEO and Founder of Blis

The year 2020 was full of unexpected situations. I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be working from home with a crazy dog, a new kitten, children homeschooling – and a million critical business decisions to make before my second cup of coffee. My worlds merged unsettlingly: I would be deep in discussion with the Blis executive team regarding cash forecasts with my five-year-old son demanding, “wipe my bum!” from along the hall.

It was the most challenging year of my career and our business, but it provided a set of valuable lessons that will help me navigate whatever is ahead of us. I hope they will be valuable for other businesses, as we all navigate through whatever may come next.

Lesson 1: Communicate transparently and with humanity

With a volatile advertising landscape before us, the Blis team coalesced, adopting an “all in it together” mentality that has become our mantra. We met more frequently to discuss, assess and respond quickly to new restrictions and regulations, to adjust working arrangements and importantly, to communicate transparently with our team globally. There were, of course, lots of questions. We didn’t have all the answers, but we were honest about what we didn’t know. The way we communicate as a business changed and this is something we will keep forever.

Lesson 2: Take risks and inspire the team’s trust

In March 2020, business slowed dramatically. We were concerned about our future. We asked our team for a greater commitment to enable us to survive without putting anyone’s job at risk – but everybody would need to sacrifice some of their pay for a period of time. Yet the whole team volunteered, and quickly signed a change to their employment contracts. We promised to reimburse the salary sacrificed as soon as we could.

We learned that the team wasn’t just in it for the paycheck. They were willing to sacrifice to keep the team together. That was humbling – and a responsibility that was not taken lightly. They took a huge risk, but our board and shareholders supported this commitment, which we’ve now paid in full.

Lesson 3: Focus on what will be most useful for your customers – quickly

With everything to play for, we saw our team rise to the challenge. We knew our survival depended on becoming really useful to our clients and providing the most relevant products and insights.

Our teams released new products that could reach entire households at home and also for prospecting in the face of lockdowns and reduced mobility. In response to the need to drive consumers online vs. in-store to buy, we also accelerated click-to-cart integrations. To provide the most useful insights, we shared regular reports on the changing mobility of consumers across the world.

Lesson 4: Find the opportunity in adversity

We also said goodbye to our London office, and hello to flexible working and remote hiring and onboarding of new staff. This has created new opportunities – the ability to look further afield for the right talent – and new challenges, such as imparting the Blis culture and getting new team members up to speed without the benefit of in-person meetings.

Lesson 5: Keep calm – and laugh

Amidst it all, while we tried to ‘keep calm and carry on,’ we also shared a laugh or two – a much-needed reprieve from the pace and intensity of pandemic life. I suspect we all underestimated the impact of working at home on ourselves and our families. We all found ourselves jumping from work to straight into family issues. I never thought I’d miss my commute, but I now miss simply staring out a window and thinking to myself for an hour.

To sum it up…
There was no playbook for navigating 2020, and life continues to be unpredictable – with new variants, vaccines and finally to prepare for the country to open again. At the same time, the digital transformation we’re seeing in the advertising industry is beginning its next evolution with the release of Apple’s iOS 14.5. Oh, and my son can now wipe his own bum, just please don’t ask about the kitten…

Who is Blis?
Blis is the leading privacy-first, location-powered programmatic advertising partner. We deliver accurate targeting at scale without reliance on personal data, helping the world’s largest brands and media agencies drive key business outcomes through personalised and high-performing digital advertising. Established in the UK in 2004, Blis now operates in more than 40 offices across five continents. To learn more, visit

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