Sarita Rao, President, Integrated & Partner Solutions at AT&T Business will be chairing the Effective Use of Partnerships & Sponsorships category of this year’s WARC Awards for Media. Here, she talks about her learnings from this past year, how AT&T Business has supported its customers during the pandemic and the key to effective partnerships.
Describe your role.
At AT&T Business, my responsibility is to support both our wholesale and business-to-business markets around the globe, building innovative relationships with our customer base, primarily in the enterprise space. During my time at AT&T, I have had multiple roles, everything from being in the finance organisation to driving the operations team. The last role I had was running marketing for AT&T Business, where we invested a great deal in content marketing and in having a strong digital presence.
How has the pandemic impacted your role?
The pandemic has changed all of our roles. It’s changed the way we work – everything from leadership style to how we work with our teams and how we guide them. But it also changed how we connect with each other and I think connections have become more important than ever. We’ve all turned our cameras on more, we’ve all welcomed each other into our homes. The silver lining of the pandemic is that it’s been an amazing catalyst for growth and technology, in that respect it has opened up many opportunities.
How has AT&T supported its audience during the pandemic, especially the smaller, independent businesses that were struggling the most?
Each of our business customers are different in how they work to serve their customers. They are all in diverse industries and all have their own challenges. Small businesses, which were hit the hardest during the pandemic, had to shift to a virtual business model and sometimes they did not have the tools to do so, which was an opportunity for us to help the community.
We did several things for small businesses. Our in-house agency created a social media playbook and made it available to everyone as an educational tool. For those businesses, having an agency guide them on how to build a social media presence was invaluable. We also created a virtual handbook featuring unique ideas, for example how to build a pop-up business. We partnered with entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran from the TV show Shark Tank, who ran a series of webinars on entrepreneurship. She brought her own friends into the conversation: folks who started as chefs and ended up owning their own restaurants, people who made their way up from small businesses to large ones. Our small business customers and their community could learn from these stories, completely for free.
When it comes to enterprise businesses, we did very different things. In their case, their way of working was shifting, and we needed to make sure our network could react in line with that shift. We had to be able to accommodate for the additional devices being used and the higher demand for connectivity. We witnessed a 40% year-over-year increase in demand, and our network performed well.
Finally, looking at education, you had nearly 17 million children unable to take part in learning activities because their families had no internet services – at AT&T we call it the ‘homework gap.’ We created ‘AT&T Connected Learning’ as part of our overall $2bn commitment to address the digital divide over the next three years.
What's your main takeaway from this past year?
I think that this year gave us a greater sense of awareness and empathy. No matter which role someone plays in your life, I think we are all taking more of a pause, taking a moment to understand each other a bit more.
How do you think partnerships between brands and businesses have evolved during this time?
One of the things the pandemic has taught us is the importance of open communication: making sure we understand each other’s desired outcomes. That’s key because these outcomes have shifted over the past year. For example, awareness became much more important. Rather than “Did I sell an end product?”, marketers were more concerned with “Did I improve an experience?”
Can you share an example of a campaign that featured a strong brand partnership – not from AT&T – that caught your eye recently?
I loved the work that American Express did with ‘Stand for Small,’ their effort to expand their small business presence. Earlier in the pandemic, several large brands were being asked to come together and build a portal where they could provide tools to help small businesses. There was no cost for small businesses to visit the portal and, most importantly, no exclusivity of brands: they were truly inclusive.
What will you be looking for in this year's Effective Use of Partnerships and Sponsorships entrants?
It’s easy to simply attach yourself to another brand, but the important thing is for the partnership to be authentic and reflective of both brands. It has to feel natural, fit the purpose, and cater to consumers’ and businesses’ needs.
What advice would you give to those considering entering?
When telling your story, remember that details matter, but try to tell it in a non-complex way. Just as importantly, tell us what the measurable outcomes are and how you are evaluating them.
The WARC Awards for Media are open for entries. The deadline for submission is 22nd September, 2021.
This free-to-enter, global scheme will reward effective comms planning across four categories: Effective Use of Tech, Best Use of Data, Effective Channel Integration and Effective Use of Partnerships & Sponsorships.
For more info on the competition and to submit your work, visit the Awards website.