We push pause for one hour each week to talk, share, and listen to 60+ clients and partners who are participating in our Virtual Roundtable. As business leaders, employers, and human beings, this group discusses the impact of the latest COVID-19 developments, and ideas to help each other navigate the changing reality.

These are the topics discussed on March 27th. We hope these can help you and your teams as you make decisions moving ahead.

Advice on Tone and Approach to External Audience Messaging

Last week there were many questions regarding the best way to approach the tone and content for messaging to external stakeholder audiences. We shared the following advice for consideration moving ahead.

Demonstrate Leadership Principles

Leadership equities are particularly empowering to consider because they engender the confidence that the company or brand can continue to deliver the benefits that it promises to its stakeholders:

  • Be honest, authentic, and worthy of trust
  • Demonstrate care and compassion
  • Show your ability to get things done
  • Demonstrate innovation in solutions and service that make a difference
  • Be visionary, forward-thinking

Use Communications Story Arc

  • Recognize the seriousness of the situation without contributing to fears.
  • Express empathy and understanding for those being affected.
  • Express gratitude to those who are helping your organization serve others during this period, and, if appropriate, others making sacrifices and a difference (healthcare workers first responders, etc).
  • Highlight good works and actions demonstrating our shared humanity and lifting others.
  • Express hope.
  • Express commitment to the future.

Presence and Relevance

Continued presence of brand communications reinforces core stakeholders and prepares for future, post-virus recovery. Adjust media channels to correspond with changing landscape and emerging new habits of your stakeholders.  Refinement of existing visuals to align with social distancing. Importance of factual and helpful information customers need to know about any changes in how they acquire or request changes to existing products/services.

One size may not fit all – importance of understanding stakeholder and segment differences, emotions and decision-making.  For example, while a positive message that ‘we’re all in this together’ may resonate with those who are hopeful, determined and confident of recovery it may alienate others who are more skeptical, see more divisiveness, are confused or hurting economically and/or emotionally.

Demonstrating purpose and core values matter now more than ever.  Consumers are open to hearing from brands who are demonstrating how they are supporting employees, customers, and society.  How are you using your core competencies to help others?  To avoid appearing self-serving, brands who rely on employees (vs leaders), communities, and non-profit partners to tell their story of how they are helping are deemed more credible.

Societal Engagement

  • Retooling operations to make needed personal protection equipment (PPE) and devices (ventilators, respirators) or donation of existing PPE to those on the front lines
  • Free content on how to find a job and interview virtually
  • Access to faculty, best practices, and other online learning resources for people who are studying, teaching or working remotely
  • Donations and employee volunteerism to support food banks and feeding the hungry
  • Scientific communities and pharma industry teaming to advance testing and potential treatments
  • Alcohol industry making hand sanitizer
  • Grocery stores offering multitude of ways to obtain groceries, elderly hours, limiting # of customers at any given time, advanced sanitation continually, stocking of essential goods, hiring impacted workers from other industries
  • ‘Combat pay’ increases and bonuses for those on the front lines
  • Donation of rides and vehicles to support transportation
  • Free online conferencing platforms to enable family and work engagement
  • Financial institutions offering hardship policies to support those who can not meet financial obligations
  • Free online entertainment, movies, theatre, music and libraries/books.

What Will Stick Longer Term Post-COVID-19

We are working on developing a foundation for what we can all expect to be the fundamental shifts in consumer expectations and behaviors post COVID-19. This will be an ongoing focus for the coming weeks.

Early on these are the expectations of changes shared Friday, 3/30/20:

  1. Travel
  2. Workplace Changes
  3. Increased frugality/savings/preparedness focus
  4. Slowed Growth in Urban Centers/Reversal
  5. Rapid Growth of Online/Tech/AI Solutions
  6. Stronger Connections
  7. Focus on Hygiene
  8. Healthcare Changes
  9. Interaction With Other People
  10. More Cooking at Home
  11. Focus On Domesticity
  12. Massive Education Reform

How Quick to Get Back to Business – Your Thinking

Those participating also answered where they stand when it comes to the rapidly increasing debate over how long the lockdown can or should continue. Most are still on the side of expecting a longer lockdown. But, one in five are expecting we will be in early recovery mode by the end of next week.

The President is pushing a return by Easter. Medical experts are saying it’s not time. There are very different opinions on this and massively significant consequences for either direction. When you’re talking about it within your company, is your leadership thinking more toward get back to business or hunker down much longer?

  • 62% Hunker down longer
  •   6% Get back to business
  • 31% Honestly – can’t say we lean one way or the other – just don’t know

Do you think Americans are going to demand for back to business by Easter as the President is saying, or are they going to demand longer lockdown to control the spread?

  • 56% Demand longer lockdown
  •   0% Demand back to business
  • 43% It will be divided on both sides almost equally

By end of next week, do you expect your business to start shifting to early recovery mode OR do you expect to be still in heavy impact assessment mode?

  • 81% Heavy impact
  • 19% Early recovery

Priority Questions Ahead

We again asked for priority questions to focus on in the coming week. We use this input to guide us as we are gathering information to share in the next Virtual Roundtable. Please reach out if you have additional information and/or requests.

The prioritized list of question is as follows, ordered based upon the voting from the group:

  • 55% How to build trust (specifics even, with words to use)
  • 53% How to pace communications when to say what?
  • 50% How to avoid communication fatigue?
  • 46% Resuming operations in a post or flattened curve world
  • 42% How to differentiate messaging?
  • 39% Finding the right balance between hope and not minimizing the crisis
  • 39% What is the real impact of the stimulus package?
  • 32% Understanding a timeline that might hold
  • 28% Mental health challenges of our employees
  • 28% What is the impact on political races, the political climate?
  • 25% Dealing with financial losses at our businesses
  • 17% Long term motivation for remote workers
  • 10% How to talk to a broader stakeholder audience (beyond consumers)?