How to respond to COVID-19: The Immediate Response For Businesses

March 20, 2020


We’re in the midst of a situation unlike anything we’ve witnessed in our lifetimes and it’s increasingly clear that coronavirus is not only a health crisis. It’s both an economic crisis and a crisis of justice – one that won’t impact everyone equally and will leave many vulnerable people in even more precarious positions. As we all try to make sense of the first phase of the fallout, companies – along with everyone else – have been left asking what they can and should do now. 

For big business, this is a moment where corporate purpose needs to be wrestled off a powerpoint slide and into life. Every company must look hard at its mission, values and what’s simply the right thing to do – and double down on translating those into real-world actions. For some this will come naturally, for others it will challenge the core of how the company operates, what it believes and what it stands for. Either way, it’s a time for action, not words, and to break through the internal red tape to make the best possible contribution when it matters most.

At Purpose, we’ve been advising our clients on their responses and rapidly pivoting our projects to meet the needs of these new and unusual times. Our advice is focused on three areas where businesses can act immediately.


1. Look out for those employees that will be hit hardest

Within any business, coronavirus won’t impact everyone equally. It’s crucial that every company looks inside its own structures to support all employees and contractors – and identifies those who will be hit hardest. While corporate workers can Zoom in from home, the focus needs to shift to site staff, hourly wage workers, those without sick pay and anyone who will lose direct income through reduced operations. Looking out for employees’ mental health is arguably as important as their physical health in this time. Understanding how the changing circumstances are affecting mental wellbeing, being prepared to offer resources to shore up resilience in the long term, and assessing current benefits packages and how they can be supplemented can provide a rapid solution to employees’ mental distress.

2. Give immediate, practical help in the way that makes most sense

In the immediate term, we’re asking the same questions we always ask before embarking on any corporate purpose action: What’s the need; what capabilities do you have that could address that need; and how credible or helpful is your solution? Every company has something it can do, give, offer or repurpose.

• Providing practical help where it’s most needed

Coronavirus is creating a new set of immediate challenges that the private sector can help with. The most effective solutions are those that make the best use of existing products, services, or resources in new, useful ways. LVMH and Brewdog have repurposed manufacturing facilities to make hand sanitizer; Zoom, Spectrum and others are giving free services to K-12 students for remote learning; Best Western and others are ready to turn hotel beds into hospital beds and; ViacomCBS is using its channels to promote social distancing amongst young people.

• Looking out for your customers and communities

Businesses know more than ever about their customers’ lives, needs and behaviors. There is huge potential to make an immediate, positive impact for a company’s customers and community through smart interventions. Ford, GM, and Hyundai have offered relief on car loans; Expensify is reimbursing essential purchases made on SNAP cards; M-Pesa has removed all fees on small transactions to facilitate cashless payments.

• Enabling communities to support each other

Ground-up movements are already starting to take shape in order to provide direct support to those in need, especially amongst affinity groups. As these movements grow organically, businesses can support and enable them by repurposing existing services, helping efforts reach scale and, where necessary, simply getting out of the way. Both Resy and Eater have collated resources to support restaurants, bars and food service workers.

3. Get ready for the next wave of recovery

Although there’s so much we can do immediately, we also need to prepare for the impending economic and social fallout. Every sector of the economy will be hit – the markets have already plummeted, small businesses will struggle to survive, and unemployment will be widespread. Every purposeful business should already be considering how they can make the best possible contribution – and truly deliver on their purpose – in the next 6 and 12 months. Put those plans in place now and start pivoting all of your strategies for the recovery, because 2020 will not be business as usual.

And finally, we wouldn’t be Purpose if we didn’t say it straight about what not  to do. So here it is. Don’t stick to your original marketing and social calendar without acknowledging the incredible situation we’re all living through. Don’t look at any of the above as a marketing or customer acquisition opportunity. Don’t send emails that tell people what you’re doing unless they also contain some utility or offer of help. 

In a nutshell, focus on doing what you’re best at, do it better than ever, and do it for the greater good.

For more examples of actions by corporates and others check out Kindred’s running list of corporate actions.

Over the coming weeks, Purpose will be posting to our blog to share resources and live examples of how we are rapidly changing and adapting our campaigns & projects across the world in rapid response to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Our hope is that others doing critical work will be able to use these learnings to help navigate for their own initiatives. Now more than ever we need to be fighting for those who are most vulnerable and at risk – this needs everyone.

Laura Quinn Interim Head of U.S. & Private Sector Lead
Choose Both: A Digital Guide
for Equity & Evidence