The current coronavirus crisis is dominating the news media, as well as brand communications. Companies are examining their business operations to determine what will keep them viable, mitigate the revenue bleed and ensure that employees are able to keep their jobs.
As the C-Suite and communications teams set out to project calm amid massive uncertainty, many leaders are looking for ways to contribute to the greater good to meet the needs of their communities and the country. Though some companies have something specific to add to virus prevention, treatment and social distancing, others are thinking creatively to find opportunities to contribute to the greater good.
The right way
The messaging needs to be credible, believable and meaningful with a tone that reflects the seriousness of the gesture and the potential impact of the offering.
While it’s tempting to share healthcare advice, you should limit what you say to the public if your company does not have healthcare expertise. Don’t speak with authority about something over which you have no authority, particularly on highly regulated topics such as health.
Do express empathy, compassion and understanding. Your communications should acknowledge the impact COVID-19 has had on anyone who is potentially seeing your message. Business matters need to be addressed, with sensitivity and patience, directly to the audiences involved via email or an intranet. Social media is not an appropriate channel for initial communications.
Be measured in your expression about how your company can help. Ensure that your communications do not inadvertently appear to seek gratitude and credit. When the public sees a highly profitable corporation making a sizable gift that can save lives or help those struggling because of the crisis, they feel it’s meaningful. When the donation is intended to help but doesn’t dig into corporate profits, the public perceives the commitment as much less.
“Greater good” initiatives are well received when they leverage skills, equipment and expertise that your company already has. This could include offering talent and equipment to support the needs of health care workers, frontline responders, remote workers or the unemployed, or helping at-risk populations that are in need of food, shelter, technology, human contact and other resources.
When your brand is the ‘greater good’
Many healthcare brands are on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. Some are developing coronavirus diagnostics tests (Roche) or therapies and vaccines (Inovio Pharmaceuticals), and fast-tracking R&D efforts (i.e. Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, Pfizer). Others, like Bristol-Myers Squibb, are contributing substantial financial support and needed products (like personal protection equipment) to relief efforts in affected areas around the world. Still others, like Sandoz and Novartis, are committing to price stability for certain essential medicines.
If your brand has a “greater good” mission, there is an expectation from stakeholders that you will help during this crisis. It is essential to create authentic messaging that relays what you are doing to satisfy those expectations and demonstrate leadership.
Not a healthcare brand?
If your brand isn’t in a field that can directly help people during the crisis, there are ingenious ways to effectively show your support. Here are some examples:
- The CEO of Delta Air Lines announced he will not take a salary for the next six months to support the business and preserve cash.
- Citi Bike is providing the “essential” employee workforce with a free month of Citi Bike membership to enable social distancing and fitness during their commutes.
- Starbucks offers 20 free therapy sessions to all its employees as part of a broader mental health benefit plan.
- U-Haul announced 30 days of free self-storage for college students affected by schedule changes at their universities.
Most important, brand managers need to stay focused on the fact that we’re all #InThisTogether. As a guiding principle, it’s the best way to preserve your brand equity for the future.
Ivy Cohen is the CEO of Ivy Cohen Corporate Communications, a boutique corporate communications agency. She has worked with companies such as Procter & Gamble, DHL, the National Football League, Western Union, J.D. Power, MasterCard and more.