Storytelling Gold and Your Company’s Pandemic History

We found this tweet hilarious.

The year opened with an impeachment trial, record stock prices and the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. But before the second quarter of 2020 passed, we’ve been hit with a pandemic, an economic crisis and global anti-racism protests. And we’re still months from a pivotal presidential election.

This period has required that corporations respond, adapt, lead, and serve others with greater urgency than during any global event since World War II. Recording how your company is handling this moment is crucial to prepare a stronger response to the next major global disruption.

Consistent or Too Consistent?

Messaging—intentionally or accidentally—has been remarkably consistent. This might underscore how a shared, universal, collective experience cuts across demographics.

Or it might be something less hopeful. Maybe everyone is relying on formulaic, unimaginative, and meaningless ideas. Take this supercut of COVID-19 commercials and spoof meme of a corporate response to the Black Lives Matter protests. They demonstrate the need for more specific, personal and meaningful messages that don’t rely on stock video or platitudes.

We can chalk up some of this uninspiring work to the magnitude of what we are facing. How many of us have a resumé that includes managing responses to a once-in-a-century pandemic, an economic crisis and an emotionally charged social movement? And all at the same time? It’s a cliché, but these times are unprecedented.

Whenever we get to the other side, every company and nearly every brand will have its life during COVID-19 story. All will have similar watershed events, though no two will look alike. They'll all include overcoming moments predicated on internal or external forces.

All these moments involve conflict, challenge and, ultimately, perseverance and renewal. That’s why they lend themselves to becoming great stories. They have all the narrative elements: plot, settings, characters, conflict, tension and danger. There's growth from a time before to a time after.

The events of 2020, for good or ill, are shaping up to be storytelling gold. It's a time to gather and capture real-time history and to think more broadly about how those stories can be used:

Everyone's Involved

The cascading impact of pandemic, economic distress and civil unrest has left few untouched. Therefore, telling the story of 2020 can be an opportunity to showcase diverse voices within an organization while discovering and acknowledging shortcomings—i.e., an insufficient emergency preparedness plan or a lack of minority representation in company leadership.

Enduring Legacy

Organizations that capture these moments in a broad, deep and substantive way can use the content for years. That means documenting what’s going on is just as important as pumping out messages, especially when messages can become obsolete or tone deaf so quickly.  Communicators should focus on recording how the organization responds to daily challenges, evolving needs and behaviors of customers and the marketplace.

Make Time to Reflect

While we can’t stop managing the day-to-day pressures, time should be set aside for organizational introspection. How do our stated corporate values and brand purpose manifest during tough times? Are we making concrete investments in our communities and workforces? How are we addressing inequalities and working to achieve equity? Are we preparing for emergencies? What scenario planning still needs to happen? How are we pivoting and innovating to adjust to serve our customers?

A free resource like the COVID-19 Corporate Memory Project, which showcases lessons from the current crisis, can help business leaders answer these questions. But organizations must decide to capture how they are grappling with this essential challenge. Documenting experiences across the enterprise—regardless of job title, tenure, age, gender or other factors—will generate authentic stories that reflect the diversity of experiences within an organization at this key moment in history.

Jason Dressel is managing director at History Factory