ITL #371   The global coronavirus crisis: a business perspective from Armenia

6 months, 2 weeks ago


Organizations have reacted to the changes brought by the pandemic in varying ways. Some wisely, others less so. By Tatevik Simonyan.

Certain types of predictable crises are known to be possible, but we don't know whether they will happen and if so, where and when. To describe these kinds of situations, the great Sam Black (IPRA President, 1982) defined them as “known unknown” crises.


So it is with the 2020 coronavirus pandemic – a medical crisis on a truly massive scale that also puts the reputation of organizations at risk.


Communication professionals were among the first to respond to the situation and started searching for new approaches; more effective ways and formats for communicating with the audience. And while the doctors around the world fight for the health of mankind on the frontlines, communication professionals are working hard to  ensuring the viability of organizations in this era of upheaval.


In different countries, depending on the cultural context and mentality of society, organizations haved reacted to the difficult new reality in different ways. Here is the typology of how Armenian businesses have reacted to the challenges caused by the crisis.


The three wise monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil

In this crisis, many organizations took up a strategy to build a defensive Chinese wall. They preferred to stay silent, not responding to the crisis in any way, to save financial and human resources, trying to overcome the situation with minimal losses.


It seems like “they dived underwater until the danger is over”. These organizations did not even take advantage of strengthening the trust with their audience, by being next to them in a difficult and unstable situation to provide support.


Such a strategy is not particularly purposeful for those organizations, which have been active in the past. Their long, inconceivable and unjustified silence could jeopardize their relations with both external and internal audiences.


Image is nothing, trust is everything

These organizations tried to be as flexible as Harry Houdini, not burning in the fire or drowning in water but "benefiting" from the situation in any way. However, their unprecedented activity was often criticized by the audience, who accused them of receiving dividends from and exploiting the topic. These organizations act less and talk more.


The negative reaction towards them is conditioned by the fact that the audience does not understand why the previously "often silent" brands “suddenly started talking” and "pulling the blanket over them".


Just do it!

An “act more than talk” strategy has guided those organizations which have relevant activities and services, are able to meet the needs and expectations of their audience, but avoid communication due to a fear that they may be blamed for exploiting the crisis. These organizations, commonly, do not manage their communications themselves. However, there is a certain discourse around them, which is spontaneous, rather than guided.


As a result of this strategy, the audience may have a fragmented and, in some cases, even contradictory impression about the brand, based on indirectly generated third-hand information. Remarkably, in the case of organizations having a positive reputation at the time, despite their silence, their reputation "speaks" for them.


Your reputation is like a shadow that follows you wherever you go

There are organizations which have managed their communications on their own as much as they could. As a rule, their communications have been spontaneous and intuitive rather than strategic. They have always thought as if they don’t need additional professional guidance, since they know how to react in all situations.


During the crisis, as a result of their activities, they have been getting extensive feedback, which they didn’t have in the past. Taking advantage of the crisis, they became “superstars” very quickly, achieving a new level of reputation. Journalists responded to news from these organizations and coverage grew not because the media were interested in them per se (in the past they were largely indifferent) but because they became part of the coronavirus story as the state/government included them in their list of partners because there was a need for everyone to be involved.


Is this newly achieved reputation solid or fragile? Is it real or not? Will they be able to sustain that reputation? All of this largely depends on their post-crisis actions.


After the crisis we will find ourselves in a different reality. Some companies that have seen their reputations boosted in the short term will discover this to have been a temporary uplift, conditioned by the situation.


Impossible Is nothing

In this crisis, many local companies show the power of a fast-transforming and flexible brand. This strategy requires creativity.


If successful, the brand promotes the formation of new habits in society and helps to adapt to the new reality. A clear example is the worldwide skyrocketing increase in the delivery services in various sectors and organizations, which was not considered a basic service in the past.


We are witnessing how professional and business meetings, exhibitions and so on are moving online. How many museums have created online spaces and virtual rooms to display their exhibits? The list of innovative changes goes on.


Sharing is caring

Organizations that care for and listen to the needs of their public, follow and support them in a changing context, and create comfort, become leaders. Their public is continuously informed and confident that the organizations are in control of the situation and have plans to urgently respond to it.


Very often the organizations focus on primary vulnerable groups: the isolated, the infected, physicians. But everyone needs to be taken care of since this crisis was inherently a threat to all sectors of society. 


Brands with well-established corporate social responsibility policies, which implement various programs in different areas in response to the needs of the audience, have increased the “share of care”, expanding the directions of their programs and the scope of beneficiaries.


Of course, the crisis has seen the onset of tough work. Many hard challenges are yet to come.


Organizations need not only to assess the course of the crisis, but also to think about their position after the crisis by conducting surveys on public opinion, social perceptions and behavioural changes. It is crucial to recognize that the crisis is a new stage of development and realize that the new world is full of new opportunities.

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The Author

Tatevik Simonyan

Tatevik Simonyan, Director of Communications & International Relations, co-founder SPRING PR-company. This essay was co-written with Mariam Safaryan and Nvard Melkonyan.

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