How brands can tap the power of CSR during COVID-19

by | Jun 17, 2020 | Covid-19, Public Relations

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak placing considerable pressure on brands and businesses, many have taken the opportunity to support frontline healthcare workers and vulnerable people at a time when their traditional business operations have been halted.

By developing authentic CSR strategies and considering purpose as well as profit, brands can create impactful campaigns that resonate with their customers, employees, stakeholders and the media—during a period when coming together for a greater good is more important than ever before.

In the current climate, consumers are looking to their favourite brands and businesses to play an active role in addressing social, cultural and environmental issues. CSR has become increasingly linked to a consumer’s emotional connection with a brand, which is why it is not uncommon for a business to face criticism if customers feel that it is overlooking important local or global issues.

And so despite the virus inflicting incredible challenges on businesses across the country, many have chosen to put these aside and instead focus on developing campaigns that provide aid for the frontline workers, vulnerable people and general public who have been affected by the pandemic.

It’s a very challenging time for many businesses and whilst they are unable to engage with their customers and employees in the traditional ways, it’s crucial that they find alternative solutions to keep engagement high and demonstrate an understanding of what matters most. At a time when overt sales messaging is likely to play negatively with your target audience, CSR campaigns can provide businesses with a great opportunity to stay in touch with customers and galvanise employees to feel that they can make a difference. Through launching campaigns and projects that give back and reinforce their core values, businesses can ensure that their brand awareness remains high, without appearing out of touch. Here are some of the most impactful campaigns and projects that I have seen launched in recent months:

Companies that have launched charitable initiatives

A simple but effective way to give back is through charitable initiatives—like that of British fashion label, Kurt Geiger which has collaborated with the London Evening Standard to launch the ‘WE ARE ONE’ canvas tote bag in a global effort to tackle COVID-19 and help the NHS. Featuring Anthony Burrill’s artwork which appeared on the front cover of the newspaper, the tote bag shares a message of solidarity and pride that unites the country. On a mission to raise £1million, the bag is selling for £20 with free delivery, with 100% of profits from every sale donated to NHS Charities Together.

Another charitable initiative, but one that has focussed on a particular sector of society that needs support is from Skincare brand, My Expert Midwife. They have partnered with PANDAS Foundation, a perinatal mental health charity that reported seeing an increase in those needing support since the start of COVID-19. In response to this, My Expert Midwife is now on a mission to raise £10,000 for the charity by encouraging mums to share a photo on social media that tells of their personal journey of becoming a parent. For every photo shared, My Expert Midwife are donating £1 to the PANDAS Foundation. Plus, they are also donating £1 for every sale of their Mum To Be Collection.

Companies that have switched their production

Many businesses have found a way to make a difference by utilising their existing technology and machinery to manufacture much needed supplies. In response to the national shortage of hand sanitiser, beer brewer BrewDog are using their Aberdeen distillery to produce their own “punk sanitiser”; whilst the H&M Group is diverting its’ supply chain to produce personal protective equipment for health workers.

Companies that are gifting essential workers

While some businesses are making new products, others are discounting or gifting their existing ones in aid of the NHS.  For example, retail giant John Lewis is gifting frontline staff with pillows, eye masks and hand cream to make their breaks more comfortable, beauty brand Elemis has donated thousands of units of hand moisturiser to frontline NHS staff and coffee chain Pret has also been offering free hot drinks and half price food to health workers.

Whether companies have decided to “digitally adapt” their existing services or launch new ones, repurpose production lines or gift their goods at a discounted rate, their decisions to rise to the challenge will not only help to maintain some output and revenues to support themselves financially, but ultimately retain—or even build—brand loyalty post-COVID-19. By issuing a positive and thoughtful response to the crisis, these businesses have demonstrated a connection to the issues that matter most to consumers.

With so many companies wanting to do their bit, the key challenge is not deciding what to do, but understanding how to craft—and then implement—a clear communication plan that resonates. By announcing initiatives with language that remains sensitive to the current landscape, whether through advertising, social media or PR, companies can effectively highlight their acts of good will, without being wrongly misconstrued as trying to profit from a crisis.

A key function of CSR is to bolster and retain strong brand image, but the key to doing it well is by implementing a strategy that is authentic and relevant – partnerships and initiatives built purely for the purpose of good public relations are no use.

Naturally, consumers are celebrating the brands that have thought about their CSR and shown a considerate and compassionate response to the COVID-19 crisis. And what is almost certain is that these brands will continue to be championed by those consumers long after the pandemic passes.

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Shelley Frosdick
Shelley Frosdick is Divisional Managing Director - Consumer at The PHA Group in London.

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