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Storytelling in a Time of COVID-19

March 31, 2020

Navigating our new world in this time of crisis is not easy. The media is wholly consumed by the global stories of COVID-19—from the cancellation of the arts and sporting events, and school closures, to the new work-from-home economy and the overwhelming daily updates on the spread of the virus across borders. We must all be thoughtful in communicating with the public and dedicated customers in this truly unique time.

Here are three guiding principles to follow as you re-strategize your storytelling in 2020:

1. Follow the Thread of the Moment. COVID-19 is the thread of all stories for the immediate, near-term and long-term future

So, keep a thread of it woven through your story for now. While it doesn’t need to be at the center of your story, any reference to it should have a clear and immediate connection. Any haphazard or tangential connection will be perceived as being tone-deaf and tasteless. Now is the time for compassion and sincerity.

In the long-term—beyond the next six to eight weeks—COVID-19 will still likely dominate headlines and the effects of the virus will continue to be a major theme throughout the rest of the year, particularly depending on how quickly businesses rebound. Long-term planning offers the opportunity to prepare for positive stories of companies getting back to business, citizens once again fully employed, children in school, festivities like birthdays and weddings celebrated, etc.

2. Look for Glimmers of Hope

In all of this turmoil, the media is actively looking to tell positive, heartwarming stories to provide a bit of hope and levity to their readers. In normal times, these types of stories were easily looked over but today, there is great opportunity to be had. A few ways to do so include:

3. Let Your Brand’s Core Values Lead

Rather than focusing on a product or service, let your brand’s core values and belief system lead the activation and resulting story. Your work will be viewed not only as being “on-brand” and authentic, but also caring and in touch with what customers are really looking for. A few examples include:

  • Flexibility for an improved consumer experience (e.g., offering online testing for higher education exams; hotels and airlines relaxing rules regarding status and points expiration; fast food retailers offering delivery or curbside pick-up)
  • Services that provide medical care in a social distancing environment (e.g., expansion of telehealth services; drive-through COVID-19 testing)
  • Messages that reinforce the central values of a brand (e.g., greeting card and video conferencing companies reminding consumers to stay connected during this period of isolation)

Now is the time to be sensitive and thoughtful, lest your brand is considered thoughtless or out-of-touch for being tone-deaf in a time of global crisis. Like the news cycle, this too shall pass. Now is the time to lay the groundwork for the future.

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