Andrew Jarrell, Group Gordon 

In the first days and weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, many of our client conversations began with panic. The reaction was understandable: for most businesses and organizations, their well-thought-out communications strategies were suddenly thrown out the window.

With no plan or precedent for a crisis like this, brands struggled to remain relevant. One by one, they shuffled out statements, website banners, and coronavirus-themed commercials that made an often-clumsy case for why they mattered now more than ever. We get it, Verizon, you are keeping us connected during this challenging time. The assault of Covid-19 commercials shows no sign of letting up as the virus resurges across the country. 

But this approach misses the more important point. The world has been turned upside down. Consequently, consumers are no longer looking for the same relationship with brands. Simply articulating a nexus to the crisis is not sufficient. People are looking for reassurance, inspiration, and a vision for the future. The companies and organizations that are able to engender those feelings will not only weather this crisis, they will thrive, building long-term brand equity in the process.   

As brands chart their communications through this never-ending crisis, it's not sufficient to just get the tone right. Even communication that feels appropriately considerate can get lost in the shuffle, or at worst, feel obnoxiously unnecessary. When people's attention is focused on pressing health, safety, and economic concerns, the bar is higher than ever for brand communications. Messages that will resonate are the ones that feel bold and that set the standard for industry peers.

The California State University system, for instance, announced back in May that they will continue online classes in the fall, the first large university system to make that announcement. The leadership CSU demonstrated will leave a lasting mark on students, faculty, alumni, and the higher education field. In fact, numerous other schools across the country such as Harvard UniversityUCLA, and Loyola University Chicago have since followed suit by unveiling their own plans for online instruction. 

In response to the recent spike in U.S. cases, Apple, along with several other retailers, began voluntarily reclosing store locations, even as its stock took a short-term hit as a result. In the long run, though, employees and customers will remember the proactive actions the company took to protect its people and the public.

Another example of bold, precedent-setting action was Shake Shack's courageous decision to return its full $10M small business loan. The move led to an avalanche of larger companies returning their loans, and the announcement dominated the news cycle.

Bold action is polarizing. Plenty of people have criticized CSU and Shake Shack, while many have celebrated them. But in this time when business as usual is impossible, if you want to deliver a message that will stand out and gain traction, you need to demonstrate exciting leadership in responding to Covid-19.

One could argue that these are operational decisions, not communications ones. But communication is only effective if it amplifies business goals. And in this moment, more than ever, communications professionals need a seat at the table to help organizations appreciate the need for courageous responses to this crisis. Otherwise, you have no chance of reaching your audiences in this chaotic time.