PR’s Top Pros Talk COVID – Michael Kempner
Michael Kempner, Founder & CEO, MWWPR: The Next Phase of the COVID Economy
The actions brands take today will have significant impact on how they perform during the next phase of the COVID economy. Those are among the key findings of a consumer study recently published by MWWPR. In his conversation with Doug Simon, CEO of D S Simon Media, Michael shares how brands can show leadership to stakeholders including customers and employees during this challenging time.
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About the Host:
DOUG SIMON: I’m with Michael Kempner. Michael you’ve just completed a consumer study which found that the actions that brands are taking now are going to have a significant impact on consumer behavior in the next phase of the COVID economy. Can you share some of those findings?
MICHAEL KEMPNER: Well I mean the fact is policy has become PR, that the actions you take today will have a significant impact on how consumers and your stakeholders see you in the next phase. It’s beginning to get late for those brands who have not committed to purposed campaigns who have not committed to doing the right thing both for their employees and for society around them. In fact, the number one issue with stakeholders today and how they’re going to judge companies coming out of this is how they treat their employees.
DOUG SIMON: So, what is your most important piece of advice for communicators getting this kind of feedback that you have?
MICHAEL KEMPNER: People want executives to lead at a time where people don’t have great faith in what they’re hearing coming out of the federal government. They’re looking for business to create solutions, to show leadership, to show empathy, to show compassion, and to come up with those tangible results that will both help with our health crisis as well as our economic crisis. And then you know, the best crisis teams play offense at the same time they’re playing defense. You need to be coming up with those key programs that both will contribute to the welfare of your own company, your own employees and society overall.
DOUG SIMON: In your survey you found that 73 percent of consumers expect to be hearing from corporate leaders right now. How important is it get them out there in the media and on television?
MICHAEL KEMPNER: I would say it’s critical that those companies that are not out there are glaring by their absence. There are companies that you rarely seen on television that are putting their best face forward. And consumers just don’t need to hear happy talk. They understand we’re going through a tough time. They want to know, they want to hear honesty, and they want to know that you’re committed to using all of the resources at your disposal to satisfy the needs of society today.
DOUG SIMON: And that jives with what we found we did a broadcaster survey, 87 percent of them want to speak to brand spokespeople which is the highest number we’ve ever found. I’m guessing that probably doesn’t surprise you.
MICHAEL KEMPNER: Again, it fills the void. At some point people want to talk about things besides just the same four or five talking heads on CNN or MSNBC. They need honesty they need transparency they need authenticity and people are afraid, they don’t know what the answers are, they don’t know what the next phase looks like, and they are turning to corporate brands to give them some of those answers.
DOUG SIMON: COVID has not been affecting different groups ethnic, socioeconomic, the same way. How important is it for organizations to maintain their own diversity as some may be downsizing due to economic conditions?
MICHAEL KEMPNER: Well, we have been working deeply in this area with the Voto Latino, National Association of Free Charitable Clinics. You know it does not impact people equally. You know those that are less economically secure, less food secure, don’t have health care. It is remarkable to me that we’ve done little to increase the health care coverage for people. In fact, we seem to be moving the opposite direction. So, we need to understand that everybody is not feeling it the same way while we’re talking about what it means to go back to work, many Americans are talking about what it means to get their next meal, how to keep their children safe, where are they going to live, and that’s a very different conversation.
DOUG SIMON: You’ve alluded to the fact that everything is politicized now, and who would have thought protecting people during a situation like we’re having would be controversial. But, how do brands navigate that when it is such a politically fraught issue, especially as some are starting to think about reopening? What did your survey tell you about the reopening phase?
MICHAEL KEMPNER: Well again, I think the reopening has a lot to do with what brands are doing right now and what they’ve been doing for the last two months. You can’t just declare yourself a good corporate citizen the day after we begin to open. It’s all about what is happening now. People are going to have long memories, but I’ll also tell you that no matter the politics or the tribalism around issues that are around protecting your family, where you’re going to live, or how you’re going to eat, brands who stay true to their purpose will always win out in the end. Brands who stand for the right thing no matter how politically popular or unpopular it is will always win in the end.
DOUG SIMON: Great. And I have to say one positive thing is just to see the tremendous creativity within our public relations industry to find solutions and solve problems and keep things moving and adjust to these remarkable changes and you’re definitely a leader in that area.
MICHAEL KEMPNER: Thanks.
DOUG SIMON: Thanks so much for being with us.
MICHAEL KEMPNER: Thanks Doug I enjoyed it. And stay safe and healthy my friend.
DOUG SIMON: You got it. Thanks.