10 things I have learned from the COVID-19 crisis

Companies that cut or diminished CCO positions are probably regretting that decision right now.

The CEO or elected leader is not always the best spokesperson. The U.S. would be better off if someone other than the president ran the daily briefings. Objectively, his lack of knowledge of the science, media antipathy, and self-interest have compounded the crisis (blame is never an effective crisis strategy). Find your Fauci. By the way, this happens to CEOs too. Remember BP CEO Tony Hayward wishing he could get his life back during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill?

Let's let the experts back in our public discussions. After years of back-benching scientists, engineers, doctors, and other experts in favor of dilettantes, ideologues, and sophists, let's listen again to the smartest people in our society.

More business leaders need to understand the importance of communications. It's time to deepen understanding of communications and reputation management for business leaders. Business schools and CCOs must take this on in the classroom and on the job.

Don't be cute with language. For example, if you are providing sick leave only for those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, say that specifically. Don't fuzz it up by bragging that your company has expanded its sick leave benefits.

Corporate language is running amok. Apple's Tim Cook announced an admirable initiative by tweeting "We've now sourced over 20M masks through our supply chain." Use plain language: "We are donating over 20M masks to healthcare professionals..."

CCOs are leading. I have talked with many CCOs who played an essential role in actions filled with heart and brains: giving away products, extending employee benefits, announcing pay cuts for CEOs. Well done.

Courage is the most important CCO characteristic of our time. You need it to push back on bad ideas and push for good ones based on knowledge of the enterprise, data insights, and a strong sense of humility and humanity.

Companies that have cut or diminished CCO positions recently aren't paying attention. I bet every one of them wishes they had a trusted advisor in the CCO chair right now.

The corporate purpose/stakeholder revolution is not a fully developed concept. Big businesses have been terrific in the fight against COVID-19. However, it's not just about giving, it's also about what you get. For example, I hope big and successful companies think twice about sending lobbyists in droves to Washington to maximize their stimulus benefits. Companies did this after the 2017 corporate tax cut passed Congress. Be smarter here.

The world doesn't know enough about making things. Manufacturing is hard and is first to experience the effects of disruptions in global economies. Also, switching from automobiles to ventilators is not as easy as some politicians believe. Even less is known about the global nature of the aforementioned supply chains. We have failed to communicate the staggering complexity of turning raw materials into things essential to human life.

This is a bonus: As a communicator, Queen Elizabeth can still bring it.

Gary Sheffer is the Sandra R. Frazier Professor of Public Relations at Boston University's College of Communication and the former chief communications officer at GE.

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