It’s been seven months since things went from business as usual to “in these uncertain times.” Seven months since we packed our desks, said our goodbyes to the L and hunkered down in the safety of home, forging makeshift office spaces and navigating virtual meetings with one collective thought in mind: How will we get through this?
The answer, we now know, is together.
If these seven months have proved anything, it’s that each other is all we have—even at a socially distant six feet apart. And we don’t just mean within our agency. We mean within our community of local small businesses.
When the initial shock of the first global pandemic in our lifetimes wore off, the BatesMeron team took stock of the damage: A few projects put on hold, some canceled altogether and others shifting gears to a virtual setting. Was it shaping up to be the 2020 we envisioned? Not even close. But were we still alive and kicking? Thankfully, yes.
When we knew we would make our way out of the ether, our focused shifted—from “how will we get through this,” to “how will we help others do the same.” And that’s when “BatesMeron Has Your Back” was born.
Knowing our state of panic when the proverbial shit hit the fan, we could only imagine the fear for small businesses with far less marketing savvy on their side. So, we wanted to help by sharing some good, solid, firsthand branding and marketing advice through our Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. We called it “BatesMeron Has Your Back” because that’s exactly what we wanted to do: support the businesses that needed it, client or not.
Chock-full of tips and insights for staying relevant, productive and profitable in the pandemic, the campaign took off. We paired real advice with real client examples so users could see for themselves how our ideas could best be put to work in the current climate. The more views and interactions we received on our posts, the more we wanted to share our expertise with those struggling. It was then that a very specific sector caught our attention: food service.
Few industries have been impacted by COVID-19 the way food service has, from a run on supplies and ingredients to a complete halt on eat-in dining. As our team spent our daily virtual meetings mourning the inevitable loss of some of Chicago’s finest eateries, we suddenly realized: We can do something about this. So, we began the next leg of the “BatesMeron Has Your Back” campaign.
In this new phase, we made an offer: Tell us about your local, small food service business and your post-pandemic marketing needs and we’ll make it happen for the chosen applicants—free of charge. It wasn’t about business. It was about community. That’s how we met Five Squared.
In February of 2019, Jenn and Steve Kaplan followed their dream of leaving the 9 to 5 corporate grind and opened their very own Chicago food truck. The idea? Scratch-made, almost entirely organic, Detroit-style pillowy pizza squares—with buttery thick crust, savory sauce and toppings that range from classic to creative—plus some serious sides and desserts. The name? Five Squared.
The husband and wife duo are as passionate about the food they make as they are about hitting the streets in their truck and sharing it with hungry, on-the-move city-dwellers. Pre-pandemic, they were damn good at it too. Post-pandemic? You can guess.
After a first year of nothing but success and praise, the Five Squared business model went belly up. Hungry, on-the-move city-dwellers holed into their homes and the truck was indefinitely put in park. That didn’t stop Jenn and Steve. Thinking on their feet, they began working out of a commercial kitchen in mid-March with a game-changing idea: Five Squared Fridays.
Simply text, email or DM Five Squared on social media to place your pre-order, then pick up the following Friday. No truck, no contact, no fuss. In the coronavirus era, it was the ultimate solve. Now, they just needed to spread the word.
After we chose Five Squared to take part in our campaign, we got the details straight from Jenn and Steve in our Discovery session. We learned about the success of their food truck, the wrench that the pandemic put in the works and the incredible pivot to Five Squared Fridays.
What they were needing now, they explained, was a way to ensure customers kept coming back for more, becoming brand ambassadors along the way. We worked together to decide on a plan of action and the BatesMeron team quickly jumped on our aligned-upon deliverables.
The plan was twofold. First, we launched a Five Squared loyalty program, The Five Box Club, complete with membership cards and promotional social posts. To ensure the program had serious value in order to succeed, we incentivized customers with one free box of pizza for every five ordered. Then, we rolled out a line of Five Squared swag (including collaborating with Steve to bring Einstein and Five Squared together in the ultimate t-shirt mashup).
With a few social media posts, the requests to join The Five Box Club started rolling in, and Five Squared Fridays have remained steadily popular since (no doubt in part to our team’s frequent ordering—you’ve seriously got to try this pizza).
There is no gratitude to find in this pandemic. It has uprooted, and in the worst cases, ended lives. It has destroyed businesses and livelihoods. It has robbed us of seven full months. And it isn’t over. There is no gratitude to find in this pandemic—but there are lessons.
We learned the real strength of our own BatesMeron team. We learned that when put to the task, we could adapt against the clock to meet our clients’ changing needs. Most importantly, we learned that advice is best shared generously, that help is best given unconditionally and that communities are best supported by the people inside them.
As we put a close on the “BatesMeron Has Your Back” campaign, we’re left with an unabashed appreciation for this incredible community of Chicago small businesses—one where we have each other’s backs, put people over profits and do what we can to help who we can for one simple reason: Because we can.
Even a pandemic can’t take down a community that strong.