The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic is an immediate and dire socio-economic nightmare. But … it could also be a dream come true for socially conscious, public-relations savvy businesses and industries.
Selfish, thoughtless, right? Unless you consider public relations in the traditional sense, which is to influence the public’s attitudes and actions to support a public-interest cause.
In fact, this is an historic moment to “exploit” the coincidence of public interest and private gain. Those willing and able to provide an immediate, critical public service will, in return, earn long-term gratitude and exponentially enhance their reputation.
SEIZE THE MOMENT
Somewhat ironically in this moment of crisis, we can seek inspiration from the Chinese, whose language uses two characters to define “crisis,” with one representing danger and the other opportunity. So it is, for every cloud there is a silver lining.
The Machiavellian sentiment, “Never let a crisis go to waste,” could not be more applicable today. Just a decade ago Rahm Emanuel, then President Obama’s chief of staff, observed, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”
Below are two of what will hopefully be many more examples of extraordinary amity and genuine heroism; of ingenuity and generosity that will save lives and buy priceless goodwill in return.
CHEF JOSE ANDRES AND THE WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN
Among those in the private sector who have risen to the occasion, perhaps none is more responsive, creative and selfless than chef Jose Andres. The renowned restauranteur, a leader in this hard-hit industry, was one of the first to close his establishments in response to the coronavirus. Within days, he reopened six locations as “community kitchens” in conjunction with his nonprofit disaster relief organization, World Central Kitchen.
The kitchens serve meals out of side doors and on patios at reduced prices, the Washingtonian reported. Free meals are provided to those who cannot pay, and customers also have the option to make donations.
This isn’t the first time Andres has calmed frayed nerves and fed hungry people. He formed a coalition of chefs to assist with relief efforts after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. And in 2017, he set up mobile kitchens throughout Puerto Rico after the island was devastated by hurricanes.
Andres posted online, “We can all take care of each other … sometimes that’s all it takes. So be strong. We can change the world through the power of food.”
A WYNN FOR RESORTS
Wynn Resorts is receiving huge praise internally and externally for responding to the pandemic with a commitment to the financial security of its employees, including Le Reve performers (photo above) and personnel. The multinational corporation’s impressive pledge was generously covered by all Las Vegas TV stations as well as the Las Vegas Journal-Review, which reported, “Following MGM Resorts International’s announced layoffs and furloughs Friday, Wynn Resorts Ltd. CEO Matt Maddox sent a video to employees Friday night assuring workers their jobs are safe as the industry experiences a downturn from the coronavirus pandemic.”
“What we’re going to do during these challenging times is make sure that all of our full-time employees … will be getting their pay,” Maddox said.
Now is the best time for businesses and industries throughout the country to rise to the occasion, to showcase the value of your services and products. Know that your contributions today will pay dividends for years to come.
CONNECTING WITH OLDER ADULTS
Put a positive spin on “old” news. Social isolation and loneliness are virtually synonymous with the aging experience and, arguably unjustly, within older adult communities. During this crisis, quarantining inherently vulnerable residents is a critical safety precaution. Even though the perceived and likely real consequences of such action may reinforce pre-existing negative misrepresentations.
Owners and managers of these communities, and the associations which represent the industry, could instead take the initiative to illustrate their concern, compassion and commitment to social connectivity. The public would be encouraged to know — vias TV PSAs, social media posts, direct mail, news advisories — that these communities have the technology and dedicated staff working 24/7 with residents and patients to keep them connected with outside medical professionals, family members and friends.
Major corporate advertisers may elect to err on the side of caution and suspend all advertisements. This, rather than risking placement of a tone-deaf or insensitive or outright cringeworthy advertisement. Or … companies could quickly redirect their marketing strategies to use paid airtime and print and online space for responsive public-service messaging.
For example, P&G could provide instructions on hand washing and sanitizing; carmakers and dealers could reinforce public safety measures, including social distancing; pharmaceutical and healthcare providers could offer wellness advice; and communications companies could encourage check-ins with family and friends, especially with older adults.
TECH AND COMMUNICATIONS BEHEMOTHS
This pandemic is an ideal match for big tech — to take a break from exploiting consumers’ time and privacy, and apply their unlimited resources to desperately needed community service and public-private partnerships, and maybe some discounts, freebies, surprise releases and public service messages. And, how about applying some of that incomparable innovation and invention to something clever and useful.
For Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Disney, Netflix and other influential tech giants, the unintended consequence of their inaction could be irrevocable damage to their reputation. This could cause investors to discount their value; government regulators to dispute their integrity; and consumers to become ever more distrustful of their marketing.
TV networks, cable providers, streaming services, wireless providers will suffer the same calculus unless they too step up — and use their respective public platforms to positively engage or empower their audiences.
AN INFLECTION POINT
This is an inflection point in our country, and an unprecedented test of our social contract. Will we rise to the occasion and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?” During this worst of times, is the best of times, to follow the Golden Rule.