By Kelly Callahan-Poe, President, Williams Whittle 

COVID-19 has impacted advertising for all of our clients in 2020. Some have halted advertising temporarily; others have shifted media spend to digital channels to reach the new stay-at-home workforce with more relevant messaging. And some of our nonprofit clients have seen record-high levels of earned-media support.

COVID-19 has created a paradox: an urgent opportunity to act fast, even with much of the world still just emerging from lockdown — and despite the many challenges involved in doing so. As we adapt and adjust, we all have to realize that uncertainty is the new normal. A flattening curve today could become a second wave sometime in the future.

Many planned initiatives for the first half of 2020 can’t just be pushed later in the year, because the presidential race will pre-empt advertisers for those that do not have annual schedules already locked in. It will also tighten inventory for PSAs and reduce share of voice for non-political advertisers on all channels, including digital. That means that any major initiatives that cannot launch this summer, must move to 2021.

A COVID-19 response plan should be developed quickly yet thoughtfully, allowing for flexibility and continuous monitoring based on the guidelines for re-opening the economy. 

To help our nonprofit clients think about the impact of COVID-19 on their organization, we developed a COVID-19 Advertising Strategy Worksheet.


While the goals for each organization may vary based on how they have been impacted by COVID-19, the strategy for most is to communicate what their organization is doing to keep their communities informed, connected, and protected as we navigate through this crisis and beyond. 

Any tactics for advertising and media outreach must support this overarching strategy until the country is reopened safely and “normal” business operations return. Tactics should be reassessed and reprioritized to push, pull, pause or pivot.

For our client the Mattress Recycling Council (MRC), which manages mattress recycling programs in three states, some collection sites were closed due to stay-at-home orders. This shifted our messaging from “recycle now” to “call ahead” and “stay safe.” And online messaging changed from “Click here to find a recycler” to “Learn more about recycling in your state.”

For our client Virginia Hospital Center (VHC), protecting patient health and safety is their highest priority. A new TV spot was launched to highlight all that VHC is doing to protect patient health, including drive-through and rapid testing, clinical trials and telehealth visits.

Once Virginia entered Phase I and allowed elective surgeries, it was important to educate patients on VHC’s proactive safety measures for surgical care. 

 For our PSA clients and healthcare nonprofits, we have seen unprecedented levels of donated media support to the tune of over $150 million in the last two months alone. Our annual survey of PSA Directors was completed early to understand how COVID-19 has impacted the availability of PSAs, which has motivated many of our nonprofit clients to relaunch this summer. 

Whatever happens this year, we will be ready to pivot to meet our clients’ needs, to help them mitigate risk, and to make bold decisions that will help them meet their goals. 

For more “Ideas that Generate Change for Nonprofits”, visit our website


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