Should Agencies Rethink Individually Created COVID-19 Campaigns?

Every day yet another agency issues a press release announcing its self-created COVID-19 awareness campaign. Cactus, Zulu Alpha Kilo, and imre are just a few of the latest participants to join the fight to raise awareness about staying home.

While all of these projects are undeniably worthwhile, there is the larger question of whether these initiatives are the most effective use of their expertise. After all, how many social media memes does one need to remind everyone to stay six feet apart?

“It’s not a competition whatsoever,” says Brian Simmons, senior vice president marketing & business development at imre whose “Stay Inside, Stay Lives” microsite invites people to pledge to stay home to protect Grandma.

“We believe that anyone creating a platform that can help spread a critical message and potentially save lives is worth it. The more agencies, the better. Agencies aren't competing for the best COVID campaign, they're doing what they do best -- creating compelling messaging -- to stop the spread.”



Plus, as another leader puts it,  “They probably have free time and want to do good during a time of fear.”

Professionally speaking, most agencies — as well as most brands — are not able to do much to directly impact the issue on a global or national scale with more PSAs.

For imre, agency leaders believe there remains a lot of confusion as protective measures roll out on a city-by-city, and state-by-state basis. “New terms have been — and are still being — introduced to Americans, such as social distancing, quarantine, shelter-in-place, while others are still being rolled out across the country,” explains Simmons. “From our point of view, the one clear, simplified message that needs to be heard is the necessity of understanding the individual role we all play in flattening the curve, and that staying inside does save lives.”

However, other agency professionals caution against these well-intentioned, but misdirected campaigns. “Right now, I believe that agencies should be focused on trying to protect their teammates, their jobs and the overarching business as the country continues to fight this virus,” says Steve Parker, Jr. founder, Levelwing. “That means staying intently focused on what is in front of you. If the industry at large does that well, then I believe we can all have a longer-term and much more sustainable effort after the crisis has been put to bed.”

One suggestion for those intent on developing COVID-19 messaging is to micro-target the intended audience. Agencies should focus on helping their local communities with easily digestible assistance.

Berlin Cameron’s Small Business hotline seeks to answer questions from confused owners. FCB partnered with the City of Chicago for the “We Are Not Playing” initiative that leverages the influence of the city’s professional sports teams and their players to drive compliance with the statewide stay-at-home order.

PB&‘s Til We Dine Again is designed to give Seattle locals a streamlined way to buy gift cards for their favorite restaurants.

Another agency executive suggests action would be “much more valuable.” For instance, Klick Health is constructing protective equipment for hospitals. And instead of producing giant marketing installations for clients, experiential shop Street Factory Media (SFM) is putting its builders to work to make local restaurants safer, while still staying open for business through its so-called Safe Serve Door System.

There is also a big difference between client-driven projects and agency-generated campaigns. MullenLowe U.S., to that end, just released a new PSA developed for client Providence, one of America’s largest health systems, to underscore the importance of staying home as a critical way to support these frontline caregivers.

Similarly, NAIL Communications worked with client Lifespan, the largest employer in the state of Rhode Island, to show appreciation for those hunkered down in quarantine. These collaborations are collectively demonstrating the industry’s ability to deliver relevant and welcoming advertisements despite unprecedented circumstances.

“If these pieces are created at the bequest of brands that are looking to communicate what they are doing, fine,” states Parker. “But if it’s for PR sake, it's a cute and irrelevant use of time. I do believe there is time much better spent at this hour.”


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