Purpose and a post-crisis world

Jamie Wood, former Executive Producer at Sky News and now Head of Communications and PR Services here at Sticky, reflects on the opportunities for brands to demonstrate authenticity, leadership and purpose during and after the Coronavirus pandemic.

Purpose and a post-crisis world

“A week is a long time in politics”.

Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s 1964 quote is still trotted out when things move quickly in the political world, even though it stopped being true 30 years ago.

The creation of rolling news channels made 24-hours a long time in almost anything, let alone a week – and in Westminster, around 60 minutes is enough these days for seismic changes and the making or breaking of careers and reputations.

From the evidence so far, it’s not looking great for the political leaders who are trying to guide us through the coronavirus crisis.

History tells us these events are when great leaders emerge. It could be true, and maybe we’re lacking a few. Then again, there hasn’t been a global event on this scale since long before the birth of 24-hour news let alone social media. Maybe under that level of scrutiny all of our historical heroes would look a bit shaky.

Either way, away from Westminster, there have already been examples of great leadership and communication in the corporate world that offer an insight into how the world might look for brands when this is over.

"If ever there was a time to end the boundaries between marketing and PR, paid and earned, content and communication – now is looking pretty good."

Ever since I moved from editing 24-hour news into communications, people have been banging on about authenticity, leadership and purpose. You can’t move on LinkedIn for people who’ve apparently got the secret to great leadership – they’re notably absent now. They must be busy.

It’s certainly a brave agency or brand that tries to launch any kind of campaign that has the stink of “marketing speak” about it at the moment. We’ve spent enough time talking about how brands are defined by their audiences to know the kind of long-term damage that any ill-judged foray into PR or marketing could do. Thankfully there seem to have been very few examples so far.

But at the same time there’s also a massive opportunity here for brands that get it, mean it and want to communicate with their audiences in the right way. Not an opportunity now, but an opportunity to define genuine purpose and to realise that the only way to reach and build a loyal audience is to be true to the values that your company holds. How it treats its staff, how it carries out its operations, how it communicates that to its audience.

In the past few days we’ve seen some brands and bosses really show what they’re about. From the brewers and distillers who are switching to making hand gel and giving it away for free, to business who are pledging to pay and retain their staff, give discounts to NHS workers and to prioritise the vulnerable.

If ever there was a time to end the boundaries between marketing and PR, paid and earned, content and communication – now is looking pretty good. It’s time for brands to work out who they are, what they want to say and find out the best way to say it directly to their audiences. Maybe finally it’ll be a discussion at board level, not just a memo to a marketing department.

Mean it. People will remember – and they’ll stick around.