the golden gate bridge

May 18, 2020

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By Jennifer Tang, Board Member & Director of Programs, PRSA SF Bay Area Chapter


At last week's #FridayForum, we heard from Porter Novelli’s VP of Marketing Research & Insights Whitney Dailey and EVP / Global Lead of Innovation & Impact Practice Sandy Skees. The duo shared the firm’s newest proprietary COVID-19 Tracker, a benchmark study examining American expectations of companies during the coronavirus pandemic. The Tracker has 1,000+ responses, and it continues to prove that purpose is the path forward, not only during this crisis, but also into the future. 

The study includes many inspiring insights that will help PR practitioners navigate the current situation and act with confidence. Here are 5 learnings from the discussion between Whitney and Sandy on purpose.


1. To stay relevant in this challenging time, companies need to prioritize the needs of all stakeholders, not just shareholders.

Porter Novelli CEO David Bentley said that we're now moving to a stakeholder economy instead of a shareholder economy. Americans view COVID-19 as a watershed moment for how companies operate in society, and nearly 71% of the survey participants say that they believe the pandemic will actually force companies to act more responsibly in the long term. Customers expect this from all organizations moving forward. There's no better time for companies to lead with purpose and prioritize the needs of all stakeholders. 

2. Companies should use business acumen, speed, technology, and innovation scale to address the pandemic.

The study revealed how critical it is for companies to not only provide crisis relief today, but also offer solutions moving forward. Corporations have a social responsibility that continues to grow and evolve during this crisis. More than a third of the people surveyed have more faith in business to solve a pandemic than the government or nonprofits, and nearly half believe business can create solutions better or faster than the government.

Companies that find creative ways to help reduce the COVID-19 impact will distinguish themselves, especially brands that pivoted their facilities to produce PPE. Those with sewing capabilities are making scrubs, gowns, and surgical masks, while other hard goods manufacturers are producing face shields, goggles, and ventilators.

3. Corporate actions today will impact reputations far into the future.

Three quarters of Americans say when this crisis is over, they'll remember the brands that stepped up. But, nearly the same amount will remember the brands that have made bad decisions. This will impact purchasing decisions moving forward. Approximately 70% of customers will stop buying from a brand that they feel has acted irresponsibly during this period.

4. Companies need to create a workplace reentry plan thoroughly and thoughtfully.

With both reputational and financial implications at stake, the reopening decision should include guidelines from healthcare and scientific experts. Not only are Americans watching what companies are doing to protect their own, but they are using it as a filter for the brands that they will support moving forward. Two thirds of people say they will stop buying from companies that are irresponsible when it comes to bringing employees back to work. The expectation for companies to create a safe and healthy workspace is more critical than ever.

5. Make your communication message authentic and compelling. 

The study says people want to hear from companies about what they are doing to support COVID relief, so be explicit about your efforts to respond positively. Lead with both authenticity and humanity, while going beyond just a message of hope or support. These stories need to be covered in the earned media as positive reinforcement for other companies to demonstrate their purpose in contributing to the benefit of society. 

Leverage partnerships such as nonprofits or third parties to tell your story in tandem with your own communications. 54% of Americans believe that a company's announcement or commitment is more authentic when conveyed through third-party partners. 

Finally, the spotlight on corporate behavior has never been greater than right now. The onus is on companies to do the right thing, and how they do it really matters. As PR pros, we should take these insights and shape strategy in collaboration with key decision makers, supporting businesses to truly demonstrate their greater purpose.