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Communities and corporates in a crisis. How do you want to be remembered?

Communities and corporates in a crisis.  How do you want to be remembered?

Photo Credit:  WheelsForHeroes

We have heard and read it many times over the last few weeks: this crisis has brought out the good and the bad in society.  From incredible acts of selfless public service and generosity to extraordinary cases of bad judgement.  One thing is for certain: public opinion is strong and swift in how it reacts to both. As a consequence, reputations are either being bolstered or damaged.

In late March, national pub chain Wetherspoon’s founder and chairman Tim Martin announced via a video delivered on social media that he is not paying his staff for due wages. He told them to work for supermarket Tesco and told suppliers he can’t afford to pay them until the pubs re-open. He was obviously working on the premise he will still have staff, customers and suppliers after lockdown, but the public reaction and reputational damage suffered must put this in doubt, at least for some time.

At the opposite end of the scale, we now have the weekly community event at 8pm on Thursday evenings. Last Thursday I stood on my balcony for the third week running to mark Clap For Our Carers. Each week it is getting louder and busier. In the UK in this last week alone, we saw around 750,000 NHS volunteers activated to help the most vulnerable in society who are socially isolating for 12 weeks, amongst countless other acts.

Goodwill, selflessness and generosity prevail: a great testament to the human spirit in the face of adversity. This has prompted me to look at what makes individuals and organisations come together during a crisis? And what are the benefits to individuals, organisations and wider society?

Goodwill, not greed:

It is clear from the early response of some business leaders that commercial and financial considerations were considered the main priority.  Yes, ‘cash is king’ and all businesses understand this (including Conduit Associates). Reputation has a value too, but this is sometimes overlooked in favour of immediate hard cash.

Liverpool FC, the seventh wealthiest football club in the world, and with a huge global brand and fanbase, took the decision to furlough its lowest-paid staff to take advantage of the UK Government’s furlough scheme. Suddenly they were faced with a reputation management issue, which rapidly turned into a communications crisis, so the decision was quickly reversed.   However, the debate on proposed player pay cuts across football rumbles on. Liverpool fans will not forget this.  Furthermore, the opportunity to mobilise fanbase goodwill to do their bit in the crisis as a loyal community has been lost.

In the UK, entities faring better are those that have responded to government or individual appeals for help.  Many are managing to balance goodwill with all the other business challenges.  Two good examples:

  1. The UK Ventilator Challenge: In response to the national call for increased ventilator capacity, the University College Hospital London, the Mercedes F1 team and engineers at University College London adapted a breathing aid, known as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), now approved for trials in less than a week. This device allows multiple patients to receive assisted breathing with no sedation from one ventilator.  Mercedes is also part of the UK Ventilator Consortium, along with Haas F1, McLaren, Red Bull Racing, Racing Point, Renault Sport Racing, and Williams.  Another global sports brand with significant wealth, though F1 fans will remember this response to the COVID-19 crisis for all the right reasons.
  2. Wheels for Heroes: Back in mid-March, in response to a local call by St Bartholomew’s Hospital,folding commuter-bike manufacturer Brompton and Brompton Bike Hire immediately rose to the challenge of producing and loaning bikes to the hospital, as NHS workers were worried about using crowded public transport. A simple registration scheme was launched, where NHS workers could apply for a loan bike. An initial handful of applications from staff at St Bart’s grew to hundreds from NHS Trusts across the UK. Julian Scriven, Managing Director of Brompton Bike Hire, explained the reasons for responding to this request and the launch of Wheels for Heroes, the special hire scheme for NHS workers:

“Brompton and Brompton Bike Hire have been going all out to support the NHS. We were initially responding to a request to help out with a few bikes for St Bart’s. This was quite straightforward for us, as we have a ‘buffer fleet’ of bikes to cover our rental demand in the peak months. 

A few bikes turned into 50 bikes, which has now grown into nearly 300 bikes - and 600 applications for a bike from NHS key workers the length and breadth of the UK. The whole business has gone into overdrive to support this.”

The scheme will continue post-COVID-19, and a crowdfunding campaign is in full swing to support this.  Individuals and organisations can contribute here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/wheelsforheroes

Once again, customers will remember this long after COVID-19.  Compare this response to that of Sports Direct.

A human crisis requires a human response:

The way wider communities have come together is a real calibration of the good in society.  Although many have exploited the crisis through profiteering, scams and rogue cyber activity, this has been drowned out by people and organisations simply wanting to help.  Politics aside, there is no doubt what tangible difference is being made by contributions from members of the community; charities carrying out acts of kindness; and volunteering and commercial operational support to front-line services.  From furloughed airline cabin crew stacking supermarket shelves; to volunteers assisting the NHS with specialist skills, such as deep-sea divers with expertise in administering oxygen flow; to luxury brands such as Burberry and Barbour switching production to PPE. A very human response to a human crisis.

The veteran community has also stepped up, as their skills and experience in dealing with adverse and challenging conditions is well known.  Conduit Associates wants to highlight one such organisation: Team Rubicon UK, a three-year-old disaster relief charity that ‘repurposes’ veteran skills in emergency situations and disasters, both in the UK and overseas.  Team Rubicon UK gives veterans a continued sense of purpose and camaraderie in settings where their highly trained military skills can be put to use in challenging situations.

For the COVID-19 crisis, Team Rubicon UK has launched Op Re:Act, a military-style campaign to provide volunteer teams of veterans throughout the country to help coordinate the voluntary sector and identify the ‘unmet’ needs.  They currently have teams deployed at the NHS Nightingale hospitals; assisting with the homeless; and distributing PPE and other essential logistic needs. The scale of what they have been asked to support is ambitious, and they are currently running a very human-based campaign, appealing for both veteran volunteers and support from organisations that can provide equipment and funding.  As Team Rubicon UK CEO Rich Sharp explained:

“I’ve been absolutely blown away by the response of not just the veteran community but also organisations leaning in to offer support, equipment, money – we all need money.

We have missions and tasks coming in from every direction, and what we need is thousands of veterans to come forward. If you served in the military, you have a set of skills and experiences that you earned the hard way, and they are incredibly valuable, but right now even more so.

Likewise, if you are an organisation that wants to come in and have a significant impact on the COVID-19 crisis, please go to our website and register.”

You can either volunteer or donate here: https://www.teamrubiconuk.org

There is no question that goodwill is winning out and helping the national effort in communities across the globe.  Corporate Social Responsibility  (CSR) is taking on a new dimension, as organisations examine their values, their relationship with their staff and the value of brand trust.  This won’t be forgotten.  As digital consultant and influencer Paul Sutton wrote recently:

“Altruism and empathy are the new and most important currency.”

There has never been a more important time for the social responsibility elements in CSR to prevail as communities naturally come together in this crisis. It goes beyond reputation management.  It is now simply what the consumer spending public expect, and they will remember those who engage to help during this crisis – and those who didn’t.

My guest blog later this week is Olga Ivannikova, Founder of Corporate Responsibility and Inclusion Consultancy “Private Goodness”.

Doing our bit: helping you cope with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis

Anyone involved or negatively impacted by the COVID-19 crisis who needs pro-bono communications and PR assistance during this crisis can apply to the following initiatives:

Conduit Associates is running a free daily COVID-19 crisis communications clinic, with two one-hour slots available to anyone impacted by the crisis.  This free service can be accessed by emailing info@conduit-associates.com  with a short outline of your organisation, discussion points/issues and preferred appointment date/time.

The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) has a growing global list of volunteer advisors available.  To apply for a free 30-minute session, visit: http://news.prca.org.uk/prca-covid-19-taskforce-launches-support-service-for-communications-leaders/

Ellwood and Attfield,  the PR and communications recruitment agency, is co-ordinating support requests and offers of volunteer help to government departments and charities involved in the COVID-19 response: https://www.ellwoodatfield.com/covid-19-help/


JD Wetherspoon’s backlash:  https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/mar/25/jd-wetherspoon-refuses-pay-suppliers-until-uk-coronavirus-lockdown-ends

NHS Volunteer platform – what they are looking for and how to apply:  https://www.goodsamapp.org/NHS

UK Ventilator Challenge:  https://www.ventilatorchallengeuk.com

Deep-Sea Divers join NHS staff to help treat critically ill patients:  https://inews.co.uk/news/health/deep-sea-divers-join-nhs-staff-treat-critically-ill-coronavirus-patients-2536827

“We Won’t Forget Businesses That Treat Their Staff – And Us – Badly” – Paul Sutton: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/coronavirus-sports-direct_uk_5e7b6adbc5b64ef9d36eb06d


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