With week four of isolation under our belts and the initial shockwaves of a new way of working starting to fade, it’s occurred to me that the long-term impact of COVID-19 on our working lives as PR professionals will go far beyond the increased flexibility in where, how and when we work. It’s also going to be about what work we do – and I, for one, can’t wait. Following Kate Gomes’ article last week on brand purpose in the post-COVID world, it got me thinking about what will change for the CPG sector – which has largely seen demand for its products go through the roof – once this is all over and we enter into a new normality.
As PRs, we have long been working with brands to help carve out a credible and genuine brand purpose. We know that people are far more likely to buy into or advocate for a brand that they see as doing good, so it’s really a no brainer. But all too often, when handled clumsily, brand purpose is framed to solve a fabricated “problem”, focused way too much on the beautiful glossy film shouting the brand “say” from the rooftops before addressing a genuine brand “do”, or artificially shoehorning a company into a topic where it isn’t welcome and does not belong (let’s not forget that Pepsi ad).
But the pandemic has inadvertently helped brands take huge steps in addressing this. Sure, there are still examples of it being handled clumsily (an understatement when it comes to the likes of Sports Direct), but it’s been impossible to miss the wealth of genuinely brilliant gestures and initiatives made by companies across every sector, as they rush to think creatively about how to make the best use of their resources to be a genuine help at this time. From product donation to the development of bespoke services – not to mention the significant financial donations – it has been incredible and inspiring to see just how quickly brands can spring into action when they need to; Dettol, L’Oreal and Deliveroo and are some of my favourite examples of this. But what happens when this is all over and how do the companies who stand to benefit financially from this pandemic ensure their newfound philanthropy is more than a flash in the pan?
With our social feeds, newspapers, blogs and TVs awash with brands doing good during this period, it’s clear that the pandemic has helped many carve out a genuine and credible purpose and crystal-clear ways to be a good corporate citizen. As we head out of this period and “normality” resumes, the real winners from this crisis will be those who have learned something about themselves through the inspiring ways they were able to become a genuinely helpful brand and then continue doing it. No shoehorned purpose, no exaggerated problem/solution scenario, just a common drive to use their scale and unique position to be of help in the most credible way.
The brands who have the smarts to make longer-term commitments to the groups they’ve been able to help and look at how they can continue to support those who have benefitted from their benevolence will be the ones to welcome in a new era in brand purpose, which is genuinely borne from a compelling brand “do”. I have no doubt that those who jump and shout about their efforts now only to abandon them once this is all over will be undoubtedly questioned by our ever socially-conscious society as to why, if they are able to help in the midst of extreme adversity, they are not able to do more as normality resumes.
While I am looking forward to a post-COVID world for a number of reasons (time with my team at the coffee bar at the top of our office is high on the list), I am most excited to work with our clients to look at how we can lead the way in this new era of purpose-led brand behaviour and truly stand by those communities they have already done so much to support.