Red Havas’ CEO: ‘Optimism needs to be felt’

Make sure employees can see a path forward, but don’t offer speculation where you don’t have hard data. Here’s how you can prepare for a quick recovery.


It’s crucial for organizations to have a detailed and realistic plan for how they will recover from this current crisis.

It is unlikely that health authorities and financial institutions will be able to flip a switch sometime this summer and everything will go back to normal. Instead, we may be looking a t a long process of incremental improvement as consumers feel more comfortable leaving their houses and businesses slowly come back to life.

In the meantime, employees need to hear from you. They need to know you’ve made their health and safety your top priority and they need to have some optimism about the future.

We spoke with James Wright, CEO of Red Havas, to get his insights on the messages you should be sharing with your stakeholders right now and how you can plan your recovery.

Here’s what he had to say:


PR Daily: What’s a message that every employee needs to hear during the current crisis? Are there messages they are getting that they don’t need?

Wright: Communicating regularly, clearly, openly and reassuringly is important.

Right now, difficult decisions need to be made, and in the future harder decisions may need to be made. Whatever they are, your people need to feel respected and dealt with honestly, transparently and with compassion.

This is an unprecedented situation and the effects are felt by everyone, so messaging should provide a spirit of togetherness.

What your teams don’t need right now? Speculation. It’s unhelpful and only adds to the anxiousness of people.

PR Daily: What should be the focus of internal messaging right now?

Wright: Businesses need to ensure that employees know that their health, wellness and welfare is their highest priority. You should be communicating what you are doing to help support people and your community. Provide regular business updates and the steps being taken to both protect the business today—and also set it up for success tomorrow.

A sense of optimism and positivity needs be felt, not just heard, so also look at ways in which the culture of your organization can play out beyond formal updates.

PR Daily: Is it too early to think about strategy for after the crisis is over? What should we be thinking about as a next step?

Wright: In these unchartered waters, leadership is driven as much by instinct as experience. We are in the “now”—and action is needed, but it must be measured. How you as a leader behave today, tomorrow and over the next few months is critical to set your business up for success when we come out on the other side.

And it’s not too early to think about how you can set your business up for rapid recovery to ensure you can steal a march on the market and competitors. Scenarios need to be played out—looking at, for example, if we are back in our offices on June 1, what will this look like? What will the market and economy look like at that point?

Accept your people, your culture, your customers will have changed, attitudes and behavior will be different, business models will have innovated and evolved. How can you be best placed to deal with that and maximize the opportunity? Then play that out for July 1, Oct. 1, etc.

PR Daily: Who should be the face or spokesperson for this crisis?

Wright: Right now, communications that go to the whole of your organization about COVID-19 need to be consistent and come from the same sources.

Business-wide updates should come from the CEO or equivalent. Depending on the size of the business, there will be examples when other senior people might be the best for communicating a more specific issue. For example, the most senior IT/technology executive can update the business on items like server updates and remote log-in changes, or the most senior talent/HR person can provide information on healthcare access.

PR Daily: Are there some mistakes that we should avoid?

Wright: The public is deeply concerned for their health, their families and their communities. Communications right now need to be “people first.”

Start with the human side of the story and build with sensibility and compassion from there. You may well have a product or service that is going to come to the fore during this period, which is great and good to communicate, but do so respectfully and in the right tone.

In terms of mistakes? Don’t take advantage. We have seen many examples whereby retailers (not necessarily the brand) have greatly inflated the price of everyday household or hygiene items that are either in (or perceived) to be in short supply.

PR Daily: Any lessons you are taking from this crisis and how brands are responding right now?

Wright: Don’t be frightened of having a voice in this; we are all in it together.

Whether delivering business updates or sharing public information about hygiene, social distancing or symptom awareness, or what you are actively doing to help your staff, consumers or community, just do it in the right way.

But what’s “right” right now? Try simplifying your messaging and/or acknowledge that you are adjusting it during COVID, as brands like Nike, Target and Coca-Cola have been doing so well. While remaining active on social media, they’ve kept their feeds very pared-down during the crisis, with simple text-based social posts. Along with sharing facts about how it is managing the crisis, Target is spurring optimism by asking its social followers to share something that makes them smile and asking them to drop pictures of their fur babies into a Facebook comment section. And Coca-Cola notified its fans that its Instagram Stories will “look a little different as we help amplify meaningful messages.”

However, there have been a few campaigns that were just plainly tone deaf in content and message.

One of the more bizarre examples I have seen is from the Malaysian government. In the name of reducing domestic violence, their public information campaign suggested women should stop ‘nagging’ their husbands during COVID-19, to not be sarcastic, that they should dress up and wear make-up when working from home. It was rounded upon almost immediately by women’s groups and the public before it was pulled.

PR Daily: Anything that makes you hopeful for the future?

Wright: With everyone being in this together—teams, clients and suppliers—there has been a unique sense of comradery. In a way it has rekindled the human spirit.

We have invited each other into our homes, seeing another side of one another. We have introduced our children, sometimes not purposefully, as they bounce onto the Zoom/Teams calls, admitted to our interior design choices, shared workout routines and TV show tips, cocktail and baking recipes.

We have gotten to know each other better and I think that will make us better teams on the other side of this—and hopefully more compassionate and thoughtful humans.

What are your takeaways from this current crisis? Share your tips or observations in the comments.


PR Daily News Feed

Sign up to receive the latest articles from PR Daily directly in your inbox.