Things we've learned by uniting a new agency model with clients who can't afford to do business as usual.

Opportunity in the Age of COVID-19

In 1982, seven people died after taking Tylenol laced with potassium cyanide. Following the tragedy, Johnson & Johnson, the makers of the product, were tasked with developing a response. There were a number of ways they could have handled the situation; they could have focused on the fact that they were isolated incidents limited to the Chicago area. They could have tried to avoid the issue as much as possible, hoping it would ultimately be forgotten. But they didn’t. Instead, they saw an opportunity to lead. After seeing their market share drop from 35 to a mere 8 percent, Tylenol took it upon themselves to become the standard in consumer protection, coming out with new packaging that was triple-sealed. This served to not only reassure customers of the safety of the product, but also to establish Tylenol as a leader in consumer protection within the pharmaceutical industry. The result? Tylenol recovered its market share within a year, and continues to be a leader in its industry. 

Right now, the U.S. is also in a crisis. The coronavirus has impacted numerous aspects of American life. While the focus is currently on how to respond to the pandemic, as it should be, something that ultimately will deserve attention is how to learn from this to be more prepared in the future. When crises occur, it is often the reaction of people to just address the issue and then move on. But crises are not just something to avoid and ultimately forget; they are instead an opportunity. They are an opportunity to emerge stronger, as a leader relating to that issue.

So, what opportunities does this current crisis present? For businesses, there are a number of possibilities. For example, an organization could develop a crisis management plan to respond to a similar health crisis, or a different kind of crisis that could be just as or more impactful to their business, such as a natural disaster. Given the scale of this and potential future crises, ensuring that a detailed plan is created, including a risk assessment, a business impact analysis, and identifying relevant responsive actions, is essential. Considering the potential financial impact of a crisis should also be a high priority. Once the plan has been created, communicating with relevant stakeholders and revisiting the plan frequently over time will allow your company to be prepared when a crisis does occur. 

Another potential opportunity exists in the way that an organization conducts its business. Many businesses have been defined by an office setting in which employees come to work Monday-Friday from 9-5. While this is the way things have been done for a long time, the current Stay at Home orders have made such a working environment impossible. Although the current pandemic has resulted in a significant increase in working from home, this may not be as negative a result as one might think; in fact, according to a study cited by Business News Daily, remote employees work nearly 17 more days per year than do their office-going counterparts. Further, according to a 2019 LinkedIn survey, 82% of employees would like to work remotely at least once a week, which suggests that remote working might increase employee morale. Another consideration related to remote working is how it affects the number of potential employees. The office model of doing work limits a business’ potential employees to people who either live in a region or could move there; it does not necessarily allow a company to hire the most qualified candidate. Remote working would potentially allow businesses to hire candidates from around the country and even the world. The current Stay at Home orders have given companies the opportunity to see how their organization would function if more employees worked and communicated remotely. This is not to say that face-to-face communication is not important, but it gives organizations options in how they organize their business and make the most of their employees. Organizations which consider more flexibility in their relationships with employees will likely find themselves in a more competitive position moving forward. 

Tylenol was able to take a crisis and respond to it in a way that not only made it a stronger company, but that also allowed it to maintain a strong level of trust from consumers. While the coronavirus pandemic is a different type of issue, it still presents an opportunity to make your business stronger and to prepare for the next crisis that could directly affect your brand and consumer loyalty. By putting in the effort to be prepared, you will be ready to lead when the next crisis occurs.  

Written by Matt Burr - Matt has experience in marketing and communications roles at a number of organizations.

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