Uncertainty pervades. Restlessness overcomes. When can we get a haircut? Nails done? Maybe a tattoo? Walk around without a mask? Work at the office? Work out? Travel? When will our kids go back to school? When will the economy rebound? When can we live again?

To help guide companies through the uncertainty of how and when best to engage with stakeholders, approximately 10 weeks ago, our firm refocused the W2O Relevance Quotient and examined how companies are maintaining engagement with key stakeholders.

Tracking the relevance of 240 companies for three years before COVID-19 and since January 1 specific to the pandemic, we now have a strong, longitudinal body of data to analyze. Unlike past reports, where we focused on shifts in a two-week period compared to the prior two weeks, this report takes a more aggregate look at patterns regarding what it means to be relevant throughout the entire crisis thus far.

For a copy of the full W2O COVID-19 Relevance Analysis, Vol. 5, click here.

Our analysis found four main determinants of COVID-19 relevance as the pandemic continues to evolve:

  1. Being a first-mover matters.
  2. Dormancy drives irrelevance.
  3. Engagement is fatiguing and, as a result, relevance is in decline (mostly).
  4. Relevance before the crisis has led to resiliency now.

Let’s unpack each of those.

1. Being a first-mover matters.

The difference between first movers and fast followers is clear.  First movers are those organizations that, mid-to-late March, announced a robust, multi-pronged, multi-stakeholder response initiative via multiple channels. This effort was focused initially on employees and customers. Fast followers fell short and struggled with timing and authenticity. For example, Delta CEO Ed Bastain’s decision to forgo his salary was an early initiative met with praise. Companies that waited several weeks to follow generally did so in the context of announcing furloughs or layoffs. These moves were seen as too little too late and inauthentic.   

2. Dormancy drives irrelevance.

To be relevant is to be thought of, sought out, talked about, engaged with, and believed in. Organizations can hardly be relevant if they are conspicuously absent on an issue. If they aren’t visible, vocal and engaged with stakeholders, relevance is at high risk. We noticed companies that played too small while stakeholders were craving big and bold suffered. Companies that were dormant, inconsistent, disproportionately focused on too few stakeholders and too few channels either maintained low levels of relevance or dropped significantly. Relevance is hard to gain, hard to keep, and quick and easy to lose in the absence of an always on, multi-channel, multi-stakeholder engagement.

3. Engagement is fatiguing and, as a result, relevance is in decline (mostly).

As stakeholders have engaged less with COVID-19-related news, relevance for healthcare companies has been in decline, after peaking in April – but we predict this is temporary. Highly engaging media coverage of company announcements surrounding COVID-19 vaccine development and testing has begun to slow among the Top 20 Healthcare companies.  However, companies that are extending the narrative by providing updates on potential vaccines, safety precautions, back to work protocols, and partnerships via multiple channels are continuing to drive relevance. There are two notable exceptions to the trend of stakeholders engaging with less COVID-19 news generally: an uptick in engagement on topics related to the economy and the disproportionate effects on minority populations.

Non-healthcare companies have experienced a minor increase in relevance in the last two weeks given technology partnerships around testing and tracing. Big tech companies have led the way with extending work from home policies until the end of 2020 or forever in some cases.

4. Relevance before the crisis has led to resilience now.

The strongest predictor of relevance amid COVID-19 is how relevant companies were before the crisis. Of the 19 of 20 most relevant healthcare companies in 2019, the same are among the most COVID-19-relevant in 2020. They have remained relevant for all of the reasons outlined above, operating with an engagement mindset and empathy in all decision-making.

From our data, it is important to note that Relevance leaders are:

  • Not necessarily the most revered
  • Transparent and open to some risk
  • Emboldened to take a differentiating stand on issues meeting stakeholder expectations
  • Focused on values and purpose
  • Sharpening their narratives and aligning narratives internally and externally
  • Leveraging all stakeholders to help
  • Employing always-on, integrated cross-PESO content, storytelling and thought leadership strategies

W2O will continue to refresh the Relevance Quotient data to identify new trends, determine how these trends evolve and uncover key themes related to moving forward beyond COVID-19.

In the meantime, stay safe and healthy.

Contributions to this content were made by Gary Grates, Chuck Hemann, Katy Hagert, and Justin Harris of W2O.


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