There are many lessons that will come out of the coronavirus pandemic. And politicians, CEOs and communications professional will all be among those who will have to learn them – some will learn the hard way, others might not.  Here are a few we wish they’d learn

  1. Fear of Finding Out may lead to more than ignorance it can also lead to death


Mark Weiner, Chief Insights Officer at Cision,  describes  PR people as plagued by  “Fear of Finding Out,” which Mark illustrates with an actual quote from a PR agency president:  “I don’t measure because I’d rather forgo being a proven success in exchange for never being a proven failure.”  In other words, they don’t measure because they don’t want to know how bad things might be.   Sound familiar?

If there’s one thing that the countries that have seen the fastest flattening of their COVID case curves have in common is widespread testing.  Sadly, the countries that have lagged the furthest behind in testing are the ones having the biggest difficulties controlling it. I won’t blame FOFO for all the US failures in testing, but there’s no doubt that the current administration didn’t’ make it a high priority when news of the virus first appeared in December.

  1. Focusing on the wrong numbers

In the last issue, we made a certain political figure menace of the month for liking numbers but only ones that made him look good. We’ve seen a lot of that lately. Boeing focusing on profits over safety. Wells Fargo focusing on sales over ethics. Deutche bank pushing growth over profitability – and the law.  And Trump focusing on the small number of cases back in February, not at the spread or the death rate, or the size of the problem vs the supply of PPE and other equipment needed to deal with it.

Numbers and data are very valuable things, but only when they are used in the context of a bigger picture. Similarly, brands that are running ads or email campaigns that may have garnered “results” in the past,  (as in large numbers of clicks or eyeballs) – are flopping today because getting eyeballs is NOT what’s needed. What’s needed is trust and strong relationships between brands and their stakeholders.

So brands like Sandals that send out messages about vacation resorts that no one can get to will flop. And brands like Everlane that posted (just as unemployment numbers reached their highest point in history) its first ever sale  because “this was a time of many firsts”  will generate a backlash.

On the other hand,  posts like those from Georgia Pacific’s  social media team about how hard they are working to put toilet paper back on shelves make you smile, and presumably think better of their Angel Soft brand so you will reach for it first once we can shop again.

  1. People who trust data and science tend to live longer

New Zealand’s response to COVID 19 has shown that a response led by data and science works better than those led by conspiracy theorists and science deniers.

The COVID-19 case curves of countries like Brazil and Poland whose leaders eschew science and embrace totalitarianism are today significantly steeper than that of New Zealand.  But more importantly, those with flattening curves like Germany and New Zealand had  responses that were directed by scientists and driven by data. In New Zealand,  the Prime Ministered immediately closed the borders, and shortly afterwards ordered a full and total 4-week shut down (not 2 like most of the U.S.) Surfers were ordered out of the ocean.  The Health Minister was chastised by the prime minister for taking his family to the beach To date only one person has died from COVID-19.

Brands that use research and data and science to make decisions tend to perform better.  Southwest Airlines who’s been investing in communications measurement for decades, is also the only airline whose stock analysts have upgraded from In Line to “Outperform”  while its competitors stock prices have tanked.

  1. Unproven drugs are the AVE of this crisis

Okay, that might be an insult to hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug that President Trump has been touting as a possible cure for COVID-19. It has been shown to be effective on certain rheumatic diseases, but the fact that one of his donors stands to profit from its sale may have more to do with its promotion than any scientific evidence.

However,  like Ad Value Equivalency, there is no data science behind the claim. It is calculation that was invented when all the news had to actually fit into a “news hole” and was delivered on your doorstep by a paperboy or girl.

  1. Business as we know it will be over, but that’s not a bad thing

The COVID pandemic will destroy many businesses and norms as we know them. But many were anachronistic and far beyond their sell=by dates.

For example, it was widely believed by many companies that in order to be productive employees HAD to drive 2-3 hours a day in gas guzzling cars. As it turns out, millions of people are working from home, saving money on gas, and are just as productive, if not more so.  The environment is cleaner, companies may save money on office space and be able to pay workers more as a result.

On a related theme, thousands of companies spent millions of dollars organizing, attending and exhibiting at huge events and tradeshows. When those events were cancelled or postponed, companies had to find other ways to reach potential customers. I’m guessing some of them are realizing that they get just as much business and make just as many contacts by hosting video conferences or smaller more focused online meetings in which customers specific questions can be addressed.   Will we ever fill up Javits Conventions Center or McCormick Hall again? Sure, but it may be with homeless people not trade show booths. And that might be the solution to a different problem.

Here’s another one. As businesses realize they can’t or don’t need to travel to have productive meetings,  hotels are empty or at least shuttering floors. Some are already turning them over to health care workers. The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) just announced their Hospitality for Hope program in which they are collaborating with communities around the country to house healthcare workers.

6. Preparation and Planning are the best Medicine

You didn’t have to be a genius to realize that some sort of health-related crisis was inevitable.  At least 28 million people have watched Bill Gate’s 2015 Ted Talk in which he warned us about a coming pandemic.  Many communications professionals have crisis communications plans that probably envision an accident, the suddent death of a senior leader, or a social media gaffe. How many include detailed instructions on what to say and do in the event that your company has to close due to a rapidly spreading infectious disease.  If it doesn’t, start working on one now!

Start with some research.  Look at what your peers are doing and see how well its working. Review lists of gaffes and good works like this. See what has worked in the past for your own organization. If you’ve never experienced a crisis, look at how a peer handled, or how some brand you admire did.

Beware of being a yes-person. In a crisis it’s hard to stand up to power and authority — we see proof of that every day in the presidential briefings.  But the reality is that during a crisis is when we need to make the toughest decisions and you need to speak truth to power. If you’re using data to back up your decisions you will be proven right.  Check out all our crisis advice for research-based best practices.


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