For the past month, Weber Shandwick Canada has been closely tracking the issues arising from the impact of COVID-19 to see how our clients can meaningfully contribute to solutions. We are seeing many innovative responses from brands, government and individuals using their expertise and energy to help their communities. 

Each week we will identify emerging themes and trends to help guide thinking and recommendations. We recognize that there are times to act, and times to observe and learn. Some brands have a solution that makes life better and solves a problem; others can apply lessons on the frontlines to how they manage their employees or connect with consumers.

Everyone is better, however, when they are aware of opportunities to step up and make a difference at a time of great need.

Below are our key learnings from the past month and a look to the weeks ahead. Moving forward, we will report on a weekly basis.

General Recommendations

  • Actions over gestures: Consumers need more than words; they need to know what you can DO to help. Think about what problems or issues you can solve. Lead with actions, not your brand. Small actions speak volumes: your contribution doesn’t have to solve the problem entirely. Small, focused actions can have a big impact on people’s lives and their experiences.
  • You don’t have to be the first: If it is the right thing to do, be proud to be a fast follower. You may not get the first-mover attention, but you will be helping. And that’s where the focus should be.
  • Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good: Speed is more important than perfection right now, and good deeds sometimes attract critics. Doing the right thing will ultimately build your reputation.
  • The measure of success is whether you helped: Put aside reach, engagement and brand lift metrics. Success of your efforts will be judged by whether you helped solve a problem, made someone feel safer or appreciated, or saved lives.

Weekly Themes: A Call to Action

Here are some things you can immediately do to help. While there have been great strides to support the most pressing items and concerns, there is still much to do and accomplish:

  1. Make life-saving medical or personal protection equipment (e.g. face masks, gowns, scrubs, shields, hand sanitizer, ventilators) or contribute to production by manufacturing components or donating raw material.
  2. Deliver food or beverages to frontline medical staff and other essential frontline employees who are struggling to find the time and resources to eat and take care of themselves as they take care of others. Focus should be on hospital staff such as doctors, nurses and support staff, or delivery drivers, postal employees, and truckers.
  3. Donate supplies or apparel (e.g., shoes, clothing) to frontline medical staff.
  4. Offer employees assurances and protection regarding employment (e.g. no-layoff promises or continued pay during a furlough), hazard pay or bonuses to frontline employees and protection (e.g. shields at retail, temperature checks). Many companies have made these pledges and there is growing demand and backlash from employees if these aren’t in place.
  5. Focus on helping businesses that have been most severely impacted and ones that will struggle to get back on their feet
    • Forgive or defer royalty payments and/or extend credit to dealers and franchisees.
    • Accelerate payments to smaller suppliers who need cash flow.
    • Forgive or defer lease payments for small businesses within properties you control.
  6. Offer/create/distribute at-home entertainment, education, other programs as the time we’re spending at home continues to increase and extend. This is a very crowded thematic area, but still useful/valuable if done right and targeted at a specific audience or problem.
  7. Offer lodging space or other support to needy or vulnerable populations:
    • Medical staff who can’t go home; victims of domestic violence; families in transition; families who rely on schools/social services for support.
    • Also, as hospitals are overrun, space will be needed to be set up as temporary hospital space for COVID-19 patients.
  8. Reassign the furloughed or laid-off workforce to help in other relevant ways. Airline personnel with safety training can help in field hospitals; school bus drivers can act as delivery personnel for care packages; etc.
  9. Redirect or donate media spend dollars away from brand-focused content. Brands can donate to organizations that are fighting the pandemic, donate committed ad spends to public service announcements related to slowing the spread of the virus, or to not-for-profits who need support.

Looking Forward: Actions to Consider

Here are some key issues that are likely to become bigger in the weeks to come:

  • Mental health: This is already a serious issue that will only get bigger, particularly among those isolated indoors and frontline employees like doctors and nurses. Also consider the mental health of already-vulnerable populations such as veterans, people with history of mental health struggles, or people in substance abuse recovery.
  • Unemployment: We are at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unemployment numbers. This issue will get bigger over the next two weeks. Small businesses that may have seen their closures as temporary measures are now realizing they are longer-term, and even permanent in some cases.
  • Medical equipment and healthcare facility shortages: This is a major story that will continue to grow in seriousness as health systems exhaust their supplies. The health system is becoming inundated and beds are even more scarce.
  • Confusion around government stimulus money: The government is giving people and businesses money, but no one really knows what they’re going to get, when they’re going to get it, or how to go about getting it. This is a particular issue for small businesses, who need financial support immediately but who may struggle to navigate the application process.
  • A focus on specific audiences: Whether it’s the impact to seniors, veterans, immigrants or people with specific disease states, we are seeing more conversation on the impact on niche audiences. Also consider youth who will be losing the opportunity to begin a career and sustain a first job.
  • Open calls for innovation: We’re seeing more and more open calls for innovation and ideas, such as the UN’s open brief to global creatives to create public service announcements that both engage and inform at-risk citizens around the world.
  • People losing the willpower to stay home: When this first started, many people were told two weeks. We were prepared to do what we needed to do for two weeks. Now that it’s a month, or likely more, eventually people will begin to lose willpower to keep up physical distancing. We’ll need to reinforce physical distancing and encourage people to keep it up, particularly around upcoming long weekends or holidays like Mother’s Day.

We hope you found some value in this first look at trends and issues from Weber Shandwick Canada. We will continue to review what consumers care about as covered in all media, and evaluate how brands around the world are stepping up to provide solutions. The focus right now is on the urgent and practical.

As we get past the first few weeks of responding to the crisis, there will be a need for brands to be themselves and provide emotional comfort to consumers by reinforcing their spirits through entertainment and just being there as companions through this experience. As events evolve, we will keep pace and keep sharing.

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