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COVID Marketing Best Practices

COVID Marketing Best Practices

The Art of Business Transformation – Walking Your Advertising Talk

With the Great Resignation, part of the issue is compensation, but an even larger issue is COMPASSION, CARING and EMPLOYEE APPRECIATION.


This issue contains the following:
  • An insight on how COVID-19 advertising can succeed or backfire
  • What YOU can do now to close the gap between corporate caring/marketing and what the employee experiences
  • Further reading on the power of compassion
  • Additional cautionary tales of how NOT closing this gap impacts people
My dear friend and colleague Mark Truss Chief Research Officer of Wunderman Thompson conducted a global study on cause-related marketing a few years ago. His work found that brands who advertise cause-related issues AND back it up with internal/external behavior have a 57% greater brand value, while brands who just advertise causes without adding internal/external action saw NO increase in brand value. What we see now parallels this research.  Many large employers are advertising all the things they are doing for COVID, from donating to food banks to supporting essential workers, BUT they’ve often failed to show the same level of care to their own workers, test the impact of this advertising on those workers or notice the unintended consequences of this disconnect.  In short, by talking about how they care about the world, they’ve highlighted their lack of care for individual employees.


What we’re seeing now is just that gap.  Here are some examples:


  • McDonald’s advertises that it’s giving away 12 million meals but local franchise owners never come in to thank the line cooks making those meals. Line cooks are now joining the ranks of those calling for unions, even after getting higher wages. Why? Because they see their employer caring about others but barely noticing them. (See below for more.)
  • Amazon advertises that it’s donating supplies for disaster relief, essential workers, PPE, but continues to fire people MULTIPLE times for having COVID.  Employees see that the company care more about its external image than it does about them. (See below for more.)
  • Restaurant chains talk about being open and thank their workers, but fail to intervene when customers harass employees for wearing a mask or say thing like “I need you to lower your mask to see how much to tip you” or “if you keep your mask on, I’m forced to look at you boobs.”
  • Hospitals advertise that they need nurses, but continue to use two tier pay systems for new employees (meaning new hires get less money even when they have more experience). (See below for more.)


What to do?  You can check your work with one of my favorite resources, First Break All the Rules, an evergreen quantitative study on what makes a great workplace (global study of 50,000 people). If you or your company are advertising that you care about those impacted by COVID, this can serve as a good checklist to see if the care you show to others is shown to your own team.

Closing the “We Care” Gap for Employees

Companies that consistently answer the following 12 questions in the affirmative show higher employee loyalty and satisfaction, AND greater financial rewards from having a motivated and engaged workforce.

ANYONE, can make a difference in closing the gap

between corporate caring/marketing and employees

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the equipment and material I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?
  5. Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my work is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, have I talked to someone about my progress?
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

How can YOU make sure your brand is walking the talk?


Further Reading – The Power of Compassion in the Workplace

Forbes Magazine has found that compassion is a key leadership trait.

Harvard Business Review found that compassion isn’t just a soft leadership strategy, it’s a crucial power skill.

Positive Psychology discusses the three pillars of compassionate leadership.

Further Reading – Cautionary Tales

Amazon illegally fired workers during Covid while advertising PPE donations

Amazon seems to be well aware that its treatment of workers during the pandemic matters. Externally, the company has launched a public relations campaign that includes TV commercials and a documentary TV series to drive home a message to customers that keeping the “retail heroes” in its warehouses safe is its top priority.
But internally, employees told Recode that Amazon has responded to workers’ complaints by cracking down on dissenters.

The company has fired at least six employees who were involved in recent worker protests or who spoke out about working conditions at Amazon, including several who were visible leaders within the company on worker issues. Sources told Recode the company has also reprimanded at least six other employees during the same period who were involved in recent protests.

Amazon has said that it terminated the employees in question for repeatedly violating internal policies on social distancing, internal communications, and conduct with colleagues. It denied retaliating against employees for their criticism of the company.

CNN 10/11/2021

McDonald’s Offers Covid Relief to Workers but Struggles to Support Franchisees

McDonald’s is offering free ‘Thank You’ meals to teachers across the country

Teachers are going to get a little extra lovin’ this week with free breakfast “Thank You” meals from McDonald’s as a token of appreciation.

Any educator, including teachers, administrators, and school staff can go to McDonald’s from October 11 to October 15 to receive their breakfast meal.

McDonald’s USA President Joe Erlinger stated, “We were honored to give away 12 million free Thank You Meals to first responders and healthcare workers last year and now, with educators going above and beyond, we’re excited to recognize them in a way only McDonald’s can.”

USA Today  04/20/21

McDonald’s is Giving Away Meals to First Responders

The company and its franchisees are giving “Thank You Meals” to emergency and healthcare workers amid criticism of the chain’s response to the crisis.

CNBC 4/15/2020

McDonald’s relationship with US franchisees is fraying over coronavirus relief

  • McDonald’s management and U.S. franchisees are once again at odds, this time due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Franchisees want more financial assistance from McDonald’s, while the company is asking operators to provide more support for restaurant workers.
  • McDonald’s U.S. same-store sales fell 13% in March.

Washington Post 10/11/2021

Kaiser Permanente- 2 Tier Wage System

24,000 Kaiser Permanente health workers authorize strike over pay, working conditions

Both sides say negotiations will continue in hopes of averting a walkout by nurses and other health-care providers in California and Oregon

More than 24,000 nurses and other health-care workers at Kaiser Permanente authorized a strike, their unions announced Monday, threatening to walk out over pay and working conditions while the coronavirus pandemic continues to strain hospitals and clinics.

Workers in California and Oregon endorsed the work stoppage by an overwhelming margin in the weekend vote as they pressed Kaiser to scrap its plans for a two-tiered wage and benefits system, which would pay newer employees less than more tenured colleagues and offers them fewer health protections. They also want 4 percent raises for the next three years and a commitment to hire more nurses to relieve staffing shortages.