According to a study conducted by the Reputation Institute at the beginning of March, 50% of the public feel that risks facing companies at this time will have long-term impact on their reputations. Furthermore, the study emphasized the effects of severe travel disruptions, and noted that the public will be most attentive to companies offering essential supplies like groceries and toiletries for the foreseeable future. 

Back when this study was conducted during the weekend of March 13-14, the  “early” days of American reaction to COVID-19, the full effects of social distancing policies and travel restrictions were not yet fully apparent. Nonetheless, the public was already pivoting towards a changing mindset regarding travel: 60% said they would be less likely to attend public events and 57% percent said they would reduce travel plans. 

Without a doubt, those numbers would be significantly higher today, as more than 1 in 3 Americans are under lockdown orders from state and local governments. This reduction of mobility is the primary socioeconomic factor which distinguishes this crisis — from an economic standpoint — from past shocks, like the 2008 United States Housing Bubble.

But we can also see that during these “early” days, the public’s attention was fixed on the companies they were relying on for quarantine preparation: retailers selling groceries, toiletries, and essential supplies. This remains unchanged today. Our attention is focused on the businesses that we need to weather this crisis. We rely on communications leadership from these companies first — especially since many of these, like local grocers, serve a double function as retailers and hubs of community.

Other companies, in the meantime, need to focus on embracing their own communities through assuring communications and educational content that supports the health and wellbeing of their clients and customers. Self serving communications or overly promotional activities could, at this time, actively harm the reputation of companies.

When can we go back to communicating as usual?

The answer will vary from company to company, but it will be entirely dependent multiple public health and policy factors, and later, on when consumer confidence is rebuilt enough for the public to start spending again, and looking beyond basic needs.