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Leon Kaye headshot

Companies’ True Colors Will Bleed to the Surface During this Pandemic

By Leon Kaye

As this pandemic continues, many of you are juggling telework, schooling from home and worrying about loved ones, while economic catastrophe hangs over all of us like a dark cloud. At first, it may seem like the last thing everyday people are concerned with is discerning good corporate citizens from bad actors. “But make no mistake,” my colleague Mary Mazzoni wrote last month. “People are paying close attention to how companies respond — and how they treat their stakeholders when it matters most.”

We’ve said that several times, several ways, for several weeks — and we can now back it up with data. New research from Porter Novelli/Cone sums up what we've believed all along: Companies that aren’t matching their “corporate purpose” rhetoric with action risk that their “true colors will bleed to the surface,” said the communications agency’s CEO David Bentley.

The survey of over 1,000 U.S. adults offers this snapshot: 75 percent believe companies must ramp up their efforts to support COVID-19 relief. The same percentage agrees that how companies act now will affect their perceptions of these firms into the future.

How companies treat their employees is of paramount importance. While over 60 percent of employees say their companies did a solid job supporting their communities during this time of dire need, about 40 percent think their employers could have taken action sooner. Further, respondents believe companies should take care of their employees first — as in, ensuring they stay safe and continue to receive pay and benefits. Then it comes time to focus on how companies can harness their products and services to help their communities.

The reality of our shopping routines — including the empty aisles bereft of paper products and foods that will long be burned into our memory — is that right now many of us don’t feel as if we have much of a choice in what we buy. But when we can finally look at this crisis from the rearview mirror, over 70 percent of U.S. consumers say they will stop purchasing products from companies they perceived to be irresponsible during this pandemic, according to Porter Novelli/Cone's data.

“The research has confirmed what we intuitively knew to be true. Americans are watching which companies are stepping up at this time — and also which companies are falling down. The decisions businesses make today will define them well after this pandemic has passed, which only reinforces the importance of leading with integrity, honesty, compassion and, ultimately, purpose,” said Kate Cusick, CMO of Porter Novelli/Cone.

Therein lies a warning for pet store chains that insist dog grooming is an “essential service,” while many of their employees say they're terrified of going into work. The same goes for meatpacking companies that didn’t do enough to ensure social distancing, resulting in employees succumbing to the coronavirus — thereby putting the nation’s food supply at risk. And for the gaming, crafting and fabric retailers that wouldn’t close locations until they received cease-and-desist orders, well, to rephrase a timeless saying: No bad deed goes unremembered.

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Image credit: Anna Shvets/Pexels

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye