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Q&A: Poppie Mickleburgh, Group Event Director, Ascential

Why has Retail Week partnered with the retailTRUST for the Retail Week Awards 2021? The Retail Week Awards is a platform for all that’s great about… View Article


Q&A: Poppie Mickleburgh, Group Event Director, Ascential

Why has Retail Week partnered with the retailTRUST for the Retail Week Awards 2021?

The Retail Week Awards is a platform for all that’s great about this sector, and it was important for us to use the Awards as an opportunity to celebrate and thank the industry for its vital work during the pandemic. In particular we wanted to shine a light on those who continued to work in stores, distribution centres and delivery teams during the crisis and kept the UK running. And we wanted to applaud those in head offices who came up with new and innovative solutions to working and delivering for customers during these tumultuous times.

To do this, we couldn’t think of a better partner and organisation to support than RetailTRUST. RetailTRUST works tirelessly with the retail sector to support and protect its colleagues. And, during the crisis it set up the CaRe20 campaign, in partnership with Retail Week and the British Retail Consortium, to provide vital financial and health services for the industry during Covid-19. Its work has been a lifeline to many and we hope this partnership will help RetailTRUST to continue its efforts supporting the industry throughout this pandemic and beyond. Not only can we highlight the dedication, ingenuity and hard work of retails frontline workers during the most testing time in retail’s history, but we can raise vital funds to continue to deliver financial, mental and physical health aid to thousands of the most vulnerable who are still facing the devastating consequences of this Covid-19 crisis.

There will be numerous ways that retailers will be able support and champion the work of RetailTRUST, including an optional entries donation and charitable table packages.

What are the new award categories, and why have they been introduced?

For 2021 we are deferring our usual sector categories and launching a set of Frontline Hero awards to recognise the phenomenal work of the industry and its people over the past six months .We’ve introduced 7 Frontline Hero Awards and a new Be Inspired Diversity Champion award. The Frontline Hero awards are to recognise the individuals, teams and companies who went above and beyond during the pandemic. There were some incredible stories from retail that came through at the height of lockdown and continue today, from store colleagues walking miles after their shifts to drop off food to the vulnerable, head office staff implementing new initiatives within days, and delivery drivers working hard to brighten up the days of their customers, and we want to make sure these are recognised.

The Be Inspired Diversity Champion is a really important new award to recognise individuals in companies who are driving the diversity conversation and implementing initiatives to help their company become more diverse. 2020 has been a pivotal year for diversity with the Black Lives Matter movement and we felt it incredibly important to recognise those who are working tirelessly to make a difference to the retail industry in this space.

A huge amount has happened this year in retail – will the awards reflect that?

Yes, we believe that they do. The Frontline Hero awards in particular will demonstrate just how critical the industry is to the nation, and how those who work in it are incredibly passionate to deliver for their customers.

We are also excited for our non-enterable categories, including Outstanding Contribution and Leader of the Year, which will both reflect the industry’s response to the pandemic.

On top of this, the conversation around diversity has accelerated this year and as a brand it is very important for us to be a part of this conversation. Our Be Inspired campaign exists to help drive diversity across the industry and so we really excited about the Be Inspired Diversity Champion award, which will recognise individuals who are looking to drive change in their business. Improving diversity across the sector will be a collaborative process and needs to be driven both top down and bottom up and so this award wants to shine a light on those who are taking those important steps.

In your opinion how has the industry responded to the COVID crisis and do you think the new look awards will be a true representation of the work that has been done by key-workers in retail?

I think in general the industry has responded to the crisis with agility, collaboration and compassion. Right at the start of lockdown and during the panic buying, it was amazing to see the grocers come together and collaborate as part of the Feed The Nation campaign and remove their competitive barriers for the greater good – we hadn’t seen anything like this before.

Companies acted quickly to ensure the safety for both their consumers and their teams. I think the pandemic really showed how important colleagues are to companies and it definitely made the leadership team of retailers more acutely aware of that. We hope that the new awards will be able to tell the story of the key workers during this time and we want to be able to highlight as many great examples as possible. Also new for the Frontline Hero awards there will be bronze, silver and gold accolades, where we will look to commend 3 people, teams or initiatives to make sure we can make as much noise as possible about their achievements.

Why has the Retail Week Awards moved venues from Park Lane to Battersea? How will this change the event?

The Retail Week Awards has been at Grosvenor House for decades and it can get tougher and tougher to come up with new concepts and ideas to make the evening different each year, and our goal is always to try and surprise and wow our attendees. So that, coupled with the new awards it felt like the perfect time to relocate and create an evening of surprise, fun, but most importantly celebration.

Are you expecting to get even more entries than you usually do this year, due to the new categories?

We hope so. Usually businesses only enter one or two categories, but we are hoping that companies will want to put forward people, teams and initiatives in numerous Frontline Hero awards, as well as our other awards that recognise companies.

What challenges and opportunities do you see in UK retail for 2021?

I think the Covid pandemic will be an even greater divider between the strong brands and the weak – it will ultimately be a survival of the fittest situation. We’ve already started to see it with a number of CVAs and potential CVAs being announced, whilst other retailers are flourishing. I think brands and companies with a real sense of purpose will be the big winners, consumers are wanting businesses to give back and really live their values. We saw some great pivots during the pandemic where brands focused on helping fight the virus, whether it was Brewdog developing hand sanitizer, H&M creating PPE or many others offering discounts or free services to NHS workers and I think these will be the companies that will thrive.

I think it goes without saying that the biggest challenge will remain the unknown about the virus itself. Retailers will have to scenario plan for numerous different outcomes, second waves, local lockdowns and further travel restrictions without knowing which they will need to execute. This unknown will continue to impact consumer confidence to spend and so retailers will need to further collaborate to encourage more shoppers back to the high street and spending their extra cash in a time when job certainty is also at an all time low.

What is on the horizon for you as a company?

Similar to retailers, and other businesses, we have had to pivot. We’ve been focused on delivering more virtual events, which have been incredibly successful. Our content team is also focused on delivering high quality insight and analysis on the retail market and the appetite for this has surged during the pandemic as businesses look for more ideas and answers fto inform their strategy. There is no rule book for how to tackle the crisis, so for us it is about sharing as much information and providing valuable analysis to the industry via different channels so that retailers can continue to remain agile and deliver for their customers safely.

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