The Agenda | Vol. 25 | Second-wave COVID communications

APRIL 15, 2020 | THE AGENDA VOL. 25

Showing the world how impactful storytelling drives behavior

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Photo: Lexington Brewing and Distilling

We’re about a month out now from the ‘moment everything changed’. That moment came at a slightly different time and probably looked a little different for everyone, but for a lot of us, it already feels like a lifetime ago.

Many major metropolitan centers are finally past the peak for hospitalizations, still others are becoming new infection hot spots. Heads of state seem to be heeding the advice from public health officers that the need for social distancing isn’t going away anytime soon. Which means the executives and leaders of businesses that can’t adapt fast enough will have tough news to deliver. If the first wave of COVID communications was about safety, perhaps the second is about empathetic adaptation.

This month’s Agenda looks at how leaders are fine-tuning their communications accordingly, how the pandemic has changed our perception around essential work, and how despite financial hardship, a number of business owners are approaching their communities with an attitude of “how can I help?”

Crystal balls are optional. Authenticity is essential.

Illustration: Maxwell Holyoke-Hirsch

With unemployment rates skyrocketing across the globe, executives are having to communicate the hard decision to lay off or furlough their staff, many while wondering about the security of their own roles within the company. Several outlets have called on experts to offer guidance for communicating that decision with empathy, while holding space for how those laid off and remaining are affected. As part of its Difficult Conversations series, Harvard Business Review called on TaskRabbit founder and former CEO Leah Solivan to recount what she learned delivering several rounds of layoffs as technology shifted toward mobile before her company was acquired by IKEA. Quartz at Work reached out to HR veteran Kim Scott, formerly of Juice Software, to discuss transparency and allowing laid off workers to remain connected to their colleagues through open happy hours.

HBR – How to Manage Coronavirus Layoffs with Compassion

Quartz – The most ethical way for leaders to communicate about the prospect of layoffs

Plight of “essential workers” reveals the true cost of middle-and-upper class convenience

Photo: Washington Post

Frontline healthcare workers continue to risk their own health and that of their families to fight COVID-19, prompting nightly rounds of appreciative cheering and celebration in cities around the world. But what about sanitation, grocery retail, logistics and transportation workers? Migrant workers? Having been referred to as “unskilled labor” in non-pandemic times, they’re now finding themselves in especially precarious positions. Companies including Amazon and A&W have expressed their gratitude in commercials, but workers’ rights organizations challenge that if they really valued their employees, they would pay them a living wage and ensure safe working conditions. Amazon and Canadian retail giant Loblaws have instituted “danger pay” wage increases, but many employees, who work in retail out of necessity, would prefer to stay home, avail of emergency financial aid, and not risk their health. The plight of essential workers during COVID-19 has been covered by Washington Post, Bloomberg, Vice and Huffington Post.

“How can I help?”


Despite having suffered the loss of business themselves, a number of entrepreneurs and companies are putting their extra time to use to offer their skills and expertise free of charge. Celebrity choreographer and dance studio owner Ryan Heffington is hosting dance parties on Instagram Live four times a week, drawing as many as 6,000 viewers at a time. The routines, which include props as microphone and extra pieces of clothing to shed for dramatic effect, encourage people to stay active and find an outlet for their emotions while self-isolating. Large and small-batch distilleries across Canada and the U.S. have begun churning out hand sanitizer and disinfectants, often donating batches to hospitals free of charge.Creative Ways Companies Are Giving Back During The COVID-19 Crisis



Congrats to Impact Relations agency Lilja Communications on its March feature in the Minnesota Star Tribune — the firm has doubled revenues since incoming president Kate Lilja Lohnes joined the firm in 2016 and developed sustainability communications as an area of specialization.


Resources we love

AdAge’s oft-updated tracker on how marketers are responding to coronavirus.


Are you telling socially impactful stories? We want to hear from you! The Global Impact Relations Network will be sharing a Campaign of the Week on social, and standouts may be included in upcoming editions of The Agenda. Submit your story here.



Wishing health and safety to you and yours. Thanks for reading,

— Ashley Letts, Managing Editor

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