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Thinking About an External COVID-19 Initiative? Here Are 5 Things to Consider

The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked families, healthcare organizations, businesses and the economy to the core. It’s triggered everyone’s fight-or-flight response, and many are actively choosing the former option — to fight. For businesses, fighting can mean developing programs or initiatives that help their customers or communities suffering from the plethora of pandemic effects. This direction may seem like a slam dunk for a company or brand, but can it backfire?

The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

What makes an initiative good or bad? Here are five things every organization must consider before moving forward with a COVID-19 program: fit, impact, implementation, timing and tone.

Fit

An effective initiative depends on how well it addresses the needs or concerns of your target audience and how well it fits within your organization. Below are some questions to ask to determine if there’s a place for your proposed program.

For your audience:

  • Where are they feeling the most pain right now?
  • What kind of challenges will they have to face in the long term — on the way to recovery or if another outbreak wave takes place?
  • Do they have expectations of you as an organization based on your past engagement and experiences with them?

For your organization:

  • Does your initiative help alleviate your audience’s pain points in any way? If yes, how significantly?
  • Do you have specific in-house skills, expertise, resources or logistics that can help provide relief to your audience? If so, what are they?
  • Does your proposed initiative reinforce your mission or values as an organization?
  • How much time, money, manpower, etc. can you afford to invest? Can you sustain that investment?
  • What are your biggest pain points as a business? Is your initiative mutually beneficial so it can help further your industry or your business as well?

Impact

What kind of impact can your proposed program make? It doesn’t take a monstrous effort to make a positive impact. A series of smaller actions like reaching out by phone or Zoom to check in, packaging information into home-school lessons or making monetary donations to community outreach charities can add up to make a big difference in the hearts and minds of your audience. You just need a clear understanding of the impact your initiative can have and what you want it to be.

Once you define that, you can determine how to proceed. You may choose a more localized, targeted effort that makes a bigger impact for your audience. Or to make an impact on a more national or global scale, you may have to collaborate with industry partners or another organization. Ideally, you’ll hit the sweet spot when the projected impact of your program aligns with the overall mission of your business.

Implementation

Whatever you propose to do, you have to be able to implement it well. Look at your resources and determine what is feasible. Think about timing. If you’re making something to donate, is it a quick change on the manufacturing line or a complete overhaul and retool? Are you putting the health of your employees at risk by asking them to do more? Or by the time you figure out transportation details, will the priority of that particular need evaporate?

The best ideas are simple to execute, because they’re relatively quick to implement and there are fewer variables that could go wrong. Simplify where possible. Remember the phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”? Poorly implementing your plan could cause more pain and suffering, and no company wants to be remembered for adding insult to injury — especially now.

Timing

What is the timing of your proposed initiative? Is it short-term and immediate relief or is it a longer-term initiative? Short term has its time and place. If you’re just now trying to figure out a way to make masks or ventilators, we’d argue that you should reprioritize your efforts if your organization isn’t a part of, or adjacent to, the front lines of the disease like a business in the healthcare industry. But for other businesses, things like loan deferments, extended payment terms or expanded online or virtual customer service options could be short-term options that make an impact.

To make your COVID-19 initiative a great one, though, you have to consider a long-term approach. A pandemic isn’t a “normal” crisis. It won’t magically go away once we can all come out of our homes and interact socially again. It has caused major waves — not ripples — throughout every facet of our lives, including our economy. Your target audience will need to know you’re there for the duration. Does your proposed program help for the next 6 months, 12 months or even 24 months? Does it account for another spike in COVID-19 cases this fall or can it be adapted? And is it sustainable?

Tone

Last but not least, everyone who considers a COVID-19 program should evaluate the tone of the program and how you communicate about it. Why do you want to implement a specific program? It should be because it is good for your audience and it is the right thing to do at its core. Be genuine in wanting to help people, because if your program is just a publicity plan focused on your sales and profits but flying under a COVID-19 banner, it will fall out of the sky like a lead balloon and you may even hear your reputation shatter as it thuds to the ground. For example, Seth Arenstein, editor at PR News, noted a story pitch he received offering at-home workout advice from two fitness professionals. Buried in their tips was a sales pitch for a new at-home gym equipment piece developed by those trainers. Thud!

Just because you put a COVID-19 angle or clever hashtag on a program doesn’t make it inherently good. If you’re considering an externally facing COVID-19 program, be sure to review it first for its fit, impact, implementation, timing and tone. It will help ensure that your program is as helpful as possible to your target audience and that you do no harm to your own reputation in the process.

If you want to know more about the potential opportunities or pitfalls with a COVID-19-focused initiative, give us a call or reach out by email. We’d be happy to talk to with you. Seriously happy. We need the human interaction while we’re social distancing.