Communicating through coronavirus: the winners and losers

There have been some shining examples of effective communications over the last few months since the pandemic took hold. At the same time there have been some PR disasters which as one expert commented could lead to a ‘reputation recession’ for some brands post COVID-19.

So, which brands and leaders have won the hearts and minds of people around the world.

Nike – the sports

The sportswear and apparel company was one of the best and powerful examples where it’s brand purpose came to the forefront putting the message out that ‘now more than ever, we are one team’ with the hashtags #playinside #playfortheworld with a punchline – if you’ve  dreamed of playing for millions around the world, now is your chance.


The clothing brand did the right thing, true to their principles when they showed empathy in terms of the situation when the put the message out on their website saying that they are always open but  highlighted that they understood shopping for jeans was probably that last thing on people’s minds right now.


The brewery and pub chain has led the way on converting their productions lines to produce hand sanitiser or Brewgel as they called it. Many companies have of course done this but Brewdog was one of the first and seized the moment PR wise.


 The management consulting firms has been a great example of providing valued advice and not selling during this challenging period. As with many of the management consultancy firms, they have shared thought provoking perspectives on a wide range of business matters throughout the pandemic.

First Bus

The bus service operator has successfully told the story of how their staff are keeping the buses running safely by going behind the scenes of the company’s operations.


The motorway food service company showed a great gesture with their free food for HGV drivers initiative for the amazing jobs they’ve done throughout the coronavirus.


The train company seized the PR initiative when it named one of its trains after Captain Tom Moore (soon to be Sir), who the nation has taken to their hearts after he  raised a staggering £30m for doing a 100 laps of his garden. The company followed this up with a great birthday message drawing on the sounds of their trains – both a fitting tribute and lovely touch by the train operator.

Jacinda Arden, New Zealand Prime Minister

Arden was a standout leader, excelling yet again for her clarity around her strategy and goals – “We go hard, we go early” in order to pre-empt a crisis. She was similarly clear about what she expected from her citizens “We will do everything to protect you. I’m asking you to do all you can to protect all of us.

Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York

Cuomo highlighted the skill of being transparent in his no-nonsense way –  from speaking openly about the tensions of working with the federal government and being honest about the challenging balancing act between safeguarding the economy and people.

Unfortunately, not all companies and leaders have got it right and will be wondering if they can reclaim their reputations moving forward.

Tottenham Hotspur

It pains me but my beloved football Club Tottenham have not come out very well from the coronavirus. The Club started things off badly by announcing it was furloughing all staff whilst at the same time reporting that the chairman had been paid a £3m bonus. The manager was then caught on camera training one of his players, whilst a number of senior players have been flouting social distancing guidance.

J.D Weatherspoon

Tim Martin, Chairman of J.D Weatherspoon is another good example of how not to do communications. He was reported as saying that closing pubs in the early stages of the coronavirus was over the top, just as the chief scientific adviser criticised young people’s complacency and urged them to stay in. He has also been accused of angering workers by saying in a video message that they would not get paid until the business had worked out the details of the government’s bail out. More recently it’s been reported that he wants to reopen pubs in June when quite clearly there are issues particularly for the leisure sector due to the need to retain social distancing beyond the lockdown.

The chairman’s comments and actions have provoked threats of a national boycott and significant negativity on social media.

One post read: “I’m planning to social distance from Weatherspoon’s and Tim Martin for a very long time indeed”

Another posted: “I see Weatherspoons planning on opening in or around June – I’m planning on visiting Weatherspoons in or around never.

Richard Branson

Richard Branson, the entrepreneur that everyone looked up to and aspired to be has seen his reputation diminish after asking government for a bail out of £500m despite the fact that he is a multi-billionaire. Not only has it massively dented his own personal brand but also that of his company, Virgin.


The case of insurance company Hiscox is a lesson in keeping true to your values. The company’s brand guidelines focuses on moral and culture and slogans including ‘do the right thing’ and “true to our world”. It also ran an ad campaign aimed at SMEs which said Become a Bigger Fish Without Being Fried. Yet yet this was the insurance company that has reportedly rejected all claims for business interruption despite it seemingly covering infection diseases that causes clients to shut shop.

And finally……President Trump

And then of course there is Trump being Trump. From ignoring social distancing by openly shaking hands and refusing to wear masks; to encouraging Americans to inject disinfectant and announcing that it would all be over by Easter (when it had only just taken hold), it’s not surprising that he has few plaudits apart from those closest to him.

Some companies may be victims of what experts have called a ‘reputation recession’ whereby they need to rebuild their brands after falling out of favour with their customers for the way they have approached coronavirus. Only time will tell.

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