Kreston International is a global network of 200 accountancy firms across 110 countries employing more than 23,000 people. In December 2019, five UK member firms - BHP, Bishop Fleming, Duncan & Toplis, James Cowper Kreston and Kreston Reeves – commissioned a major research campaign exploring the attitudes of SMEs to international trade as Brexit becomes reality.

And in March on the eve of its publication, the country went into lockdown following the deepening coronavirus pandemic.

The Professionals spoke to Senior Marketing Manager Natasha Nutten and Director of Business Development and Marketing Andrew Pincott at Kreston Reeves who led the campaign to see it successfully pivot to embrace further uncertainty.

“Many of our clients – and those of other UK Kreston member firms – generate significant revenues from overseas trade and our research at the end of 2019 sought to explore the challenges and barriers to trading internationally as we approached Brexit,” explains Andrew.

“That survey included the views of 1,109 business leaders and was to be published in a report in March. Little did we know the challenges that we and our clients were about to face.”

With the country in lockdown and international trade all but closed, the difficult decision was made by Kreston and the five participating firms to put the publication of the research on hold.

“Brexit was no longer the primary concern of businesses,” adds Natasha. “The focus switched overnight to managing the impact of COVID-19. It was a difficult decision to make given all the hard work and effort put into the research, but it would not have been the right time to engage with businesses over their plans on international trade.”

The question Kreston and the five firms had to address was whether to ditch the campaign entirely or pivot to reflect the challenges businesses now faced?

In June, the five firms commission a supplementary survey to explore how COVID-19 had affected international trade and the expectations amongst SMEs of its return.

A second survey of 514 SMEs was conducted with a report written and approved by Kreston and the five contributing firms and published within a month. The new report, called Trading internationally in 2020 - a post COVID-19 perspective, was published on 2 July and was able to draw heavily on the earlier research meaning efforts and the initial findings were not wasted.

“It was a herculean effort and one that delivered encouraging results,” says Andrew. “Whilst international trade has been deeply affected, business leaders are enormously optimistic. Over half of the businesses surveyed told us they expect increased levels of international trade to return within 12 months.

“Following the gloom of recent months, it was a rare positive story and one on which leads to encouraging conversations with clients. The ability to pivot a campaign quickly delivered content that was timely, insightful and helpful. Even The Sun newspaper agreed, reporting on the research under the headline ‘UK will recover’.”

“The Kreston International Trading Internationally campaign is a great example of both how campaigns - and Marketing and BD teams - need to be flexible and how independent firms in a common network can work together to make a bigger impact,” concludes Natasha.

A full copy of the report can be found at www.krestonreeves.com/publications