Empathy, Shared Purpose And Leadership In A Time Of War

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Kevin Mannion, president and chief strategy officer at Advertiser Perceptions.

On a call with a client on March 19, it started, as seemingly every conversation has over the past two weeks, with a personal sharing of the coronavirus reality.

The participants included a mother of a school-age child, a woman concerned about her father’s behavior, and two men with grown children. In a short five minutes, here is what we learned about each other:

  • The mother is now at home, along with her child and her husband, whose liquor distribution company has asked him to work from home as they reevaluate their strategies.
  • The other woman believes that her dad’s personal and business actions demonstrate a denial about the implications of the pandemic.
  • One of the fathers has two children, including a son whose May marriage is now postponed to some as-of-yet unknown date in 2021, and a daughter who is in quarantine in Argentina.
  • The other father’s son had been living off-campus at a Midwest university until he was exposed to a classmate with the coronavirus. The son flew home and was staying in an Airbnb apartment in isolation for 14 days. (In the days that followed this meeting, this father and his wife became sick, and their doctor has said that they likely have the virus. The good news: They seem to be improving and showing signs of full recovery.)

And then when the business discussion began, our original agenda morphed into a discussion about how their company is seeking to help its advertisers address the upheaval wrought by the coronavirus. We shifted our focus to think of solutions that might enable our client to better understand what their customers are thinking, feeling and attempting to solve. And so we moved in our discussion from the personal experience of COVID-19 to exploring ways that our client can help their clients navigate their own turbulent seas.

Over the past two weeks, the coronavirus has changed our business and personal lives. As I mentioned, one of the participants in the March 19 online meeting has since come down with the virus. So has a personal friend of mine. An extended family member has learned he has stomach cancer and will enter the hospital, alone, with no visitors, for his imminent treatment.

Each day the virus moves closer to our family, friends, colleagues. I know that all of us have or will have stories like these that will unfold.

During that March 19th call, I saw the seeds of goodness that we will all need in our business and personal interactions – a shared sense of empathy and a common purpose. We are all in this together. Virtually every meeting (and all meetings are virtual, pun intended) begins with some kind of reference to personal and business aspects of the coronavirus. And in our experience with clients over the past week, companies are asking the same question, “How do we provide value to our customers at a time like this?”

We all are toggling between the personal and business dimensions. An example, on a social media post, a former colleague asked friends to consider ordering from local restaurants that they typically frequent. That day I drove down Main Street in our town and noticed all of our restaurants and cafes displaying signs stating that they are open for delivery. Indeed, we have opportunities everywhere to sow seeds of goodness.

When we take a broader view of corporate responsibility, it is encouraging to see media and ad tech leaders show real leadership in their proactive offers to support their local communities and business partners and offer advice on using technology to create virtual communities.

Here is a sampling of CEO letters detailing their corporate responses. Each is commendable, in terms of candor, recognition of the scope of our problem and their actions on behalf of their customers, those in dire need and their own employees. The statements offer varying glimpses of what it means to be a responsible corporate leader:

  • Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen offered free access to apps and extended subscription renewal time periods.
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook provided a sobering but empathetic view of necessary store closures and the impact on partners, along with details of philanthropic initiatives related to COVID-19 relief.
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg provided tech to support 1,000 COVID-19 tests a day.
  • Google CEO Sundar Pichai gave helpful information about steps we can take to protect ourselves personally, Google’s efforts to safeguard the public from COVID-19 misinformation and an array of offers for free videoconferencing, Google Classroom capabilities and funding for government and World Health Organization initiatives.
  • Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff provided fee-waived access to emergency call centers and medical record cloud databases for medical and health care workers.

We are seeing myriad chances for putting our gifts at the disposal of each other and those in great need. In the moments of connection I have been privileged to witness in business and personal encounters, I am hopeful. The seeds of goodness are everywhere – waiting to be nurtured.

Follow Kevin Mannion (@kpmannion), Advertiser Perceptions (@AdPerceptions) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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