The Agenda | Vol. 24 | Impact Relations in uncertain times

A note from Melissa Orozco, Executive Director of the Global Impact Relations Network 

It’s okay to feel scared.

While many governmental leaders refrain from using such messaging in a state address, the Norwegian Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, went on national television earlier this week to comfort and inform the children of Norway, stating: “It’s okay to feel scared.” She was not addressing adults, but her message resonated with all who tuned in. Adults and children alike will be, or have been, impacted by COVID-19 globally. And, regardless of age, everyone deserves answers during this time of uncertainty. We need strong communications for all audiences, especially from our leaders. And we need leaders everywhere to understand that if they’re to demonstrate “strength” or “bravery” they need not mask their fears. They will benefit society if they are able to embrace their fears, and prepare accordingly.

At times like these, it’s a privilege to sit down and reflect on how much our Impact Relations community has grown over the past four years – from a big idea to a network with agencies in eight countries throughout the world. It’s a privilege to reflect on the passionate leaders who have joined the Global Impact Relations Network (GIRN) Board, who are all equally committed to our mission to bring governance to the communications industry. It’s a privilege to reflect on the measurable impact and systemic change resulting from strategies deployed by our network. And, it’s a privilege to teach the practice of Impact Relations to professionals and students alike – working on university pilot programs to bring Impact Relations into classrooms internationally.

In the spirit of coaching, knowledge sharing, collaboration, and social distancing, GIRN will be hosting weekly online meetups for our members, to facilitate conversations about everything from what the next wave of communications looks like for COVID-19 to how companies are handling their employee relations. For members who would benefit from some added support at this time, the GIRN Board would like to offer one-hour sessions for real-time counsel on how to approach difficult conversations with clients, centred around the impact of COVID-19. Email us at if you’re interested.

Putting together this month’s issue of The Agenda has been bittersweet. You’ll see as you scroll down that while this is a dark time in history, society is in constant search of pockets of sunshine and hope. We look forward to seeing some of your faces in the GIRN meetups we’re launching next week (click here to receive an invite). Until then, keep your chins up, your hands clean, and your words honest. Let’s not forget the power of strong communication coupled with collective action, and how together, (from our homes), we can help influence change and #FlattenTheCurve.

Stay healthy and safe out there, and don’t forget – it’s ok to be scared. You’re not alone.

With gratitude,
Melissa Orozco


MARCH 20, 2020 | THE AGENDA VOL. 24

Showing the world how impactful storytelling drives behavior

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We recognize that a good number of you will be reading this edition from the comfort of your home rather than at work, as health authorities across the world work to contain the spread of COVID-19.

We had originally planned to explore communications around SDG #4, Gender Equality, this month. Though it might feel like women and non-binary folks are getting the shaft again (IWD being the shortest day of the year, ahem!), with the COVID-19 outbreak evolving almost by the minute, and so many rich discussion opportunities arising around how communicators are responding, the editorial team agreed we’d be remiss not to devote this edition to communicating during the pandemic. Stay tuned in the near future for the in-depth edition that Gender Equality deserves. 

Turns out those meetings really could have been emails

Photo: CNBC

The list of companies implementing mandatory work-from-home policies is growing. To help make the transition comfortable for employees who might not be set up to work from home, E-commerce giant Shopify announced it would give every employee $1,000 to create a home office – making headlines in Business Insider, CNBC, Motley Fool and more. Twitter told TechCrunch it would also help cover employees’ expenses to set up home offices, and those who couldn’t do their jobs from home would still be paid. 

CNBC – Coronavirus could make working from home more commonplace

Values-driven companies offer relief for front-line retail workers

Photo: Business Insider

As white-collar workers settle in to work from home, those in retail wonder how they can possibly be protected from infection while having to interact with the public and each other, sparking a new conversation about which services are truly essential. Both companies renowned for compassionate HR practices, such as Lush, Patagonia and IKEA, and those not typically recognized for them, like Foot Locker and Gap/Banana Republic/Old Navy, announced store closures along with compensation for employees’ lost shifts. Retailers enacting the policy were covered by Business Insider, CNBC and CNN, alongside several companies such as Victoria’s Secret and Williams Sonoma, which would not disclose whether employees would be compensated for lost wages.

Business Insider – 70+ major US retailers temporarily closing stores in an unprecedented move to prevent spread of coronavirus

Businesses’ COVID-19 responses ranked

Photo: Peppercomm

The Institute for Public Relations and Peppercomm surveyed 300 communications executives on how their organizations are faring during the COVID-19 outbreak and released the results in a new study called “COVID-19: How Businesses Are Handling the Crisis.” Respondents were asked about their trusted information sources, whether their comms teams had a plan in place for a global health crisis, whether they felt they were contributing to the fight against the virus, and what they anticipate the long term impacts will be. A whopping 83 percent were “moderately” or “extremely” concerned about COVID-19’s impact on their companies. 81 percent said the communications function was integral to their company’s response, indicating that leadership teams are leaning on their communications teams to help them weather the storm.

Institute for PR – Covid-19: How Businesses Are Handling The Crisis

Leaders falling short

Photo: CNBC

When California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a statewide lockdown, Tesla’s head of HR, Valerie Workman, emailed employees to say she believed their factory was considered critical infrastructure and would not be ordered to close. CEO Elon Musk added that while he “personally will be at work,” others could stay home if they were uncomfortable. Musk had downplayed the crisis in several emails, saying the risk of death was lower than having a car accident while driving home. The sheriff’s department ultimately ordered the factory to close, but not before the story of how Tesla was putting employees at risk was picked up by The Verge, WSJ, Yahoo! Finance, CNBC, Business Insider , WIRED and more. The moral of the story here, particularly if your organization has garnered bad HR press in the past: employees need to know they come before profits, which is a near impossible message to convey if their welfare must be enforced by the local sheriff’s department.

Tesla told to shut down California factory to help fight the coronavirus

Leaders rising to the occasion – Leo Varadkar

Photo: Irish Times

In a daily address to the nation, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressed both the severity of the situation, the continued importance of self-isolation, and how misinformation was adding fuel to an already raging fire, calling fear “a virus in itself.” Varadkar went on to list trustworthy sources for COVID-19 information, including local health authorities. Over the course of five hours, the YouTube video of the address, which was broadcast on RTE, was viewed more than 7,000 times.

YouTube – Ministerial Broadcast by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about the Covid-19 pandemic


A big congrats to the Cone/Porter Novelli team, for releasing its new study on how companies that lead with purpose are building bonds with consumers. This study was covered by many media outlets, including Forbes, Irish Tech News and Atlanta Business Chronicle.

As well, the Carol Cone on Purpose team published the B2B Purpose Paradox, one of the most comprehensive studies on B2B purpose in the U.S. The core finding, and paradox, is the gap between B2Bs that are embracing purpose as an important business strategy, and those that are embedding purpose in the business for significant business and societal impact. Download the report here.

Podcasts we love

HOT TAKE: Mary Annaise Heglar and Amy Westervelt examine media coverage of the climate crisis through an intersectional lens.


Are you telling socially impactful stories? We want to hear from you! The Global Impact Relations Network will be sharing a Campaign of the Week on social, and standouts may be included in upcoming editions of The Agenda. Submit your story here.



Thanks for reading,

— Ashley Letts, Managing Editor

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