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‘It’s a balancing act’: Q&A with Stefanie Jay on the coronavirus pandemic

April 15, 2020By Staff

Walmart Media Group’s GM Stefanie Jay on leading the organization during coronavirus, how Walmart is responding to the crisis, and the importance of staying connected

Picture of Stefanie Jay

How have you been feeling lately?

A mix of emotions… and often opposing ones. Grateful, fortunate, concerned, and hopeful.

The COVID-19 crisis is changing every day, and the end is unknown. How are you making sense of everything around you?

COVID-19 has upended life as we know it. The pandemic has disrupted nearly every aspect of our lives. It’s hard. I don’t think there is a playbook to follow here, or one right approach. I’m just taking each day as it comes. I also believe it’s important to stay focused on long-term and try to understand what this means for all of us, and of course for Walmart Media Group. While things may never be the same, we are adapting and learning, and will come out on the other side stronger.

You mentioned you’re thinking long-term. How do you weigh meeting the immediate needs of the organization with what it will need in the long run?

It’s a balancing act. At the start of this crisis, we witnessed an unprecedented demand for COVID-19-related product categories. As customers are settling into this "new normal" of social distancing or sheltering in place, they are seeking products that bring comfort and joy, or DIY products out of necessity. Hair grooming products are the new toilet paper for Walmart customers. Their needs are constantly changing and so we need to anticipate the best we can. What happens when the crisis begins to wane? What will our customers be thinking and searching for? What’s fundamentally changed in their everyday behavior and how can we be there for them, delight them and meet their needs? We also want to be mindful of the economic impact this crisis has brought upon American families and how it impacts their needs. While there a lot of unknowns at this moment, these are important questions to consider.

Walmart is central to communities across the U.S. What is it like to work at a company that is playing such an integral role in serving customers all over America?

Our mission — to save people time and money so they can live better — feels more important than ever. I’m humbled to witness the ways Walmart is stepping up to serve our communities and customers in this pandemic, whether it’s ramping up the drive-thru testing centers or offering rent relief to our in-store tenants, or temporarily changing store hours to better serve our elderly customers. Yesterday, we announced reserving pick up slot times for at-risk populations. "What’s important" is changing constantly, and it’s inspiring to watch us push ahead for our customers.

At the same time, I’m really proud to work for a company where our first, shared priority is our associates’ wellness and health. Words fall short to describe my gratitude to all Walmart associates for doing everything they do to meet the needs of America.

Can you elaborate on what steps have been undertaken to ensure the safety and well-being of Walmart associates?

For all associates working on the front lines, we’re actively taking preventative measures to keep our stores clean, maintain a healthy environment and offer flexible time off. We also recently announced special cash bonuses and early payment of Q1 bonuses totaling nearly $550 million for hourly associates, among many other benefits.

All Walmart Media Group associates were mandated to work from home at the beginning of March. We’ve tried to ensure we’re providing work-from-home essentials to our associates to help them feel productive, and we’re being flexible with our teammates, knowing many of us are all alone or juggling our jobs and schooling our kids at home.

We want to make our associates feel cared-for and safe in every way possible.

What are some of the challenges of leading a remote workforce? What are three things leaders can do to create a good remote culture?

Walmart Media Group is a client-services business. We enjoy a lot of time face-to-face with our clients, which has come to a complete halt. But some of the things that have worked for us so far are:

1. Staying connected. I try to check in with our clients and our teams in different ways and as frequently as possible via quick video-conferencing check-ins or instant-messaging applications. For Walmart Media Group’s first-ever remote Yearly Business Meeting, we sent T-shirts, stickers and Zoom backgrounds to all of our associates. Just a few things to keep things fun!

2. Staying active. I’ve started standing up in meetings at home and encourage participants to do the same. Also, I start all my meetings five minutes after the hour to give people breaks in-between to shake it out!

3. Staying positive. I don’t want to undermine the severity of this pandemic, but I think being positive, being grateful for what we have and the right amount of humor when possible can go a long way.

What are you hearing from Walmart advertisers? What is Walmart Media Group doing to alleviate their concerns?

Our advertisers, much like us, are concerned about the well-being of their employees first and foremost. Our advertisers, too, want to be there for their customers in a way that feels relevant and authentic. No one wants to cross that fine line between being creative and being tone-deaf.

We’ve been in constant communication with our advertisers to inform them of the latest updates to our COVID-19 advertising policies. Additionally, we’ve rolled out new creative direction for our brands to help them advertise to Walmart customers effectively and appropriately. We’re also working with our advertisers to jointly serve our customers’ changing needs. As we watch our customers’ needs evolve in front of us, we are helping our clients pivot, advising them and strategizing with them to operate in this new world. I am extremely grateful for their business, support and continued collaboration.

Read Walmart’s response to COVID-19 on our newsroom page.

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