Companies that get it wrong now, will face lasting brand impacts.

March 31, 2020

Article originally published in LinkedIn

By Erika Barootes

COVID-19 went from being a terrible but distant event to something very real on our doorstep, impacting all of us, almost overnight.

Even as we spend hours online waiting for updates on what our new normal looks like, it’s hard to fully understand how big the social and economic impact of COVID-19 will be, from schools closed to the already struggling small businesses. While we don’t know how long this will last, we do know that the impact will be felt for a very long time, by everyone.

In times like this, corporate reputation moments happen in real time and decisions are amplified quickly. In week one of the pandemic, Shoppers Drug Mart and the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation both made big waves with their business decisions but for very different reasons.

Within 48 hours, the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation retracted their statement that they will not pay part-time employees for canceled events as a result of COVID-19. This quick retraction was a result of public outcry and will likely have lasting reputational impacts longer than a news cycle. Do I believe this will reduce the number of fans or attendees at events once regular venue schedules resume? Likely not but their community goodwill has taken a hit and even more important, the corporate culture of this customer-facing business will likely shift, meaning service and morale may not be what it once was.

It isn’t always the bottom line that takes the biggest hit during unprecedented times. These times reveal true leadership and opportunity for brands to live by the principles they espouse.

Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaws’ executive chairman, Galen Weston, was amongst the first to announce his company’s grocery stores and pharmacies would open early for seniors and people living with disabilities so they can shop before the crowds. As a result, Governments across Canada encouraged others to take this same dedicated-hour approach to operating their businesses.

And as retailers close their doors, lululemon athletica’s Chief Executive Officer, Calvin McDonald gets it right by assuring employees and customers that “during this time, lululemon employees will continue to receive pay for all hours they have been scheduled to work and have access to lululemon’s Global Pay Relief plan. I’m proud of how our teams are working to create space for our guests to connect through yoga and meditation classes online.” As a company that promotes mental and physical health and a balanced lifestyle, this was an opportunity successfully executed to lead by example and practice what they preach.

Communication and transparency can’t be ignored right now. We’ve all been bombarded by mass emails from companies about the organizational changes they need to make for the wellbeing of their business and their employees while some companies are carrying on with ad buys as if everything is normal. Guys, I’m not a buying a car in the middle of a pandemic.

You may want to revise your approach and focus on supporting each other, being nice, and putting the frontline before the bottom line.

Do the right thing and your brand will thank you.

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