PR & Communications

Do’s and Don’ts of brands’ coronavirus responses

  • Author

    Klara Malnar

  • Published

    May, 22, 2020

  • Reading time

    6 min

The coronavirus pandemic turned the world upside down in a short time. Businesses had to quickly change their strategies to adjust to the unprecedented situation we found ourselves in. At the same time, many of them were struggling to keep their businesses afloat. 

After the initial shock, brands started coming up with different ideas on how to reach out to their customers. 

They redirected most of their communication online, and some of them to television as well. In the first couple of weeks, many brands offered various discounts to motivate their customers to buy their products even though many stirred clear from (online) shopping because of the medical and financial uncertainty. 

💡 Read Digital PR Explained: Best Strategies and Tools

According to the article on Marketing Week, 86% of marketers are delaying or reviewing their marketing campaigns. Also, the article states that a drastic decline in campaign activity and reduction in recruitment is being driven by the fact that 69% of marketers have experienced a drop in demand for their brand’s products and services.

We’ve already covered how streaming services are handling the coronavirus situation, but in this blog, we’re going to see general do’s and don’ts of brand’s coronavirus crisis responses.  

Our COVID-19 response…

When the coronavirus started spreading around the world, I noticed a spike in emails coming from various brands, some of them I even forgot I subscribed to. This was quite reminiscent of the times when GDPR was put in place. Judging by other peoples’ social media posts, I wasn’t the only one with the inbox full of “Our COVID-19 response” emails. While some of them were informative and concise, others came across as tone-deaf and unnecessary. 

Yes, “we’re in this together”, and no, I highly doubt “you’re here for me” store I bought one random thing 5 years ago. 

The point is if you have something important to say (such as: how you’re protecting your workers and customers, delivery information, etc.) let us know. Use email marketing to provide your customers with valuable, useful information. Otherwise, be mindful and don’t use coronavirus as a marketing opportunity.


  • Inform your customers about the important stuff
  • If you’re contributing to solving the crisis, share that with your customers
  • Lead by example, and also encourage customers to follow medical instructions
  • Be mindful in your communication efforts


  • Aggressive promotion
  • Clickbait subject lines are not welcomed
  • Pause previously set promotional automated emails that may not be appropriate for this situation

You’re fired!

Laying off people is never easy, especially now. But, many brands were forced to cut the number of their employees due to the circumstances. Firing people in this situation is not something controversial, but if you fire over 400 employees in a two-minute Zoom call you better believe you’re heading to a ring of fire. 

Even though the example seems like something I made up for this text, this actually happened.

Company Bird Scooters sent an invitation to more than 400 employees for a Zoom meeting in which a woman read a statement to them (saying that they are fired among other things) which lasted 2 minutes. After the call they were immediately logged out of their business accounts and their Macbooks restarted. 

Naturally, this cold approach came as a shock to the people involved. Soon enough, this spread on social media, and many were outraged.

This tweet alone had over 13 thousand shares and over 130 thousand likes.

Dot.LA first broke the story and obtained the actual recording of the infamous meeting. When dot.LA asked for an interview, they received a statement from the company that said: 

“Layoffs are never easy or comfortable to do and COVID-19 has impacted the way they are done in at least the near term…We are eternally grateful to the impacted individuals and wish that the entire situation could have been avoided.”

In the statement, they’re saying that they’re “grateful for the impacted individuals” but the way they handled the firings shows something completely different. Yes, there were over 400 people that were fired so it’s difficult to talk to them all, but maybe they should’ve taken Airbnb’s approach in dealing with this matter.

Airbnb had to fire 25% of its workforce around the world. That’s 1,900 people losing their jobs at once, almost five times more than in Bird Scooters. But, Airbnb didn’t come under fire for this.


They choose the humane approach.

Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky sent out a thorough and compassionate note to Airbnb employees explaining why they have to lay off people, how they made that decision, and what they’re going to do to help laid-off employees. That includes base pay for the next couple of weeks (depending on where you are), dropping the one-year cliff on equity for everyone they’ve hired in the past year, paid healthcare and job support that includes Alumni Talent Directory, providing support to find a new job, four months of career services, etc.

People will judge you by how you act in a crisis. Whether you stay decent, or you do something like Bird. These are difficult times for all of us, but being a compassionate human being doesn’t have to be. 


  • Explain your actions thoroughly
  • Present future plans and actions
  • Don’t just talk, do something
  • Be transparent


  • Forgetting basic ethical and moral principles
  • Spinning the topic
  • Being unavailable for comments
  • Waiting for the crisis to pass on its own

Pulling ads

According to AdAge, some brands had to pull their ads from television because they were inappropriate. They listed a couple of ads that can be perceived as insensitive, and some of them are even receiving backlash on social media. 

Lysol’s ads for sprays and wipes were airing on television and social media which infuriated people because they were out of stock everywhere. On the other hand, Asos came under fire because they were promoting a “fashionable” chainmail face mask.

Ads like the ones from Geico, KFC, Axe, and Hersheys were pulled because they didn’t promote social distancing. Quite the opposite.

Now, the most interesting ones that were pulled of air were Norwegian Cruise Lines ads. The AdAge states that one of the ads was an optimistic spot showing people enjoying their cruise, with a tagline: “Feel free to feel more.”

Funnily enough, the commercial aired on CNN during a commercial break from coverage about people stuck on Grand Princess cruise due to coronavirus.

On the other hand, many brands started creating ads that were encouraging people to stay at home, keep social distance, and wash their hands. Also, they provided ideas on what to do while quarantining and reminded people that this is a perfect time to hang out with families. 


  • Adjust your communication efforts to the situation
  • Listen to your customers’ feedback
  • Focus on owned media as well


  • Promote activities that are currently not safe
  • Communicating sans empathy

Out of stock

Similar to Lysol, many stores started promoting that they sell face masks and disinfectants, but those items are always out of stock. Promotion is fine, but make sure you’re promoting products you can actually provide to your customers.

Also, many brands started manufacturing hand sanitizers, which is great. But, some of them were promising in their ads that their sanitizers were 100% effective against coronavirus and that you MUST BUY NOW before it’s gone. Luckily, customers would let those brands know that what they’re doing is tasteless and counterproductive.

On the other hand, some brands provided free medical equipment to essential workers such as hand sanitizers, masks, visors, etc.

Also, toilet paper manufacturers handled the situation quite well. They didn’t rush to promote their products like crazy. They aimed their communication efforts to discourage hoarding toilet paper and encourage solidarity. Cottonelle even started a campaign #ShareASquare in which they encourage people to share their toilet paper with others who need it. Plus, they’re donating $1 for every toilet paper you donate!


  • Helping if you’re able to
  • Starting a positive campaign


  • Exploiting peoples’ fears for profits
  • False or misleading advertising

To sum up

Unless you’re a medical worker, no one is preparing you to deal with a pandemic. Having that in mind, flexibility, and ability to adjust to new situations as a communicator is extremely important. Many brands are struggling with figuring out the right approach to this, and we can’t blame them. 

In unknown situations like this, one of the best routes you can take is the one of compassion and humanity. Brands who tried to profit off of this situation were called out by their customers immediately.

As I mentioned before, customers are watching how brands are behaving in this crisis, and in the future will probably avoid brands that behaved selfishly and opportunistically.

Efficient communication is extremely important during a crisis. In both, public (e.g. communicating restrictions and measures) or private sector (e.g. communication with employees). If you’re providing people with relevant and mindful information, bad stuff we mentioned in this blog won’t happen to you.