We have begun an assignment with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Dean Michelle A. Williams has an important new concept for the corporate sector, a Chief Public Health Officer (CHPO). As Williams said recently on a Fortune Health Brainstorm program, “Public health is about preserving and protecting the health and wellness of a population. And the workforce is now under siege.” This fall, the school will begin a new program aimed at educating the c-suite and senior management on the key elements of where public health and business intersect.
The CHPO becomes an essential partner to the CEO trying to reconfigure the business model in the wake of the current pandemic. For example, Adam Aron (classmate from college), now CEO of AMC Theaters, came to Dean Williams for advice on reopening his theaters, from spacing of customer seating to cleaning protocols. At the moment, the job of health advisor tends to be at the local level, assigned to a particular casino or hotel, leading to a “patchwork response” to Covid. The skills required of a corporate health officer include an understanding of the health infrastructure of communities, social justice, wage determination and media consumption.
Dr. David Nabarro, World Health Organization Special Envoy for Covid-19, said that there will need to be a “transformation of the mission of business. Companies will need to do more for their communities. They will have to pay attention to education, health capacity, transport, living conditions and communication of facts through credible channels.”
On the issue of wearing masks, the private sector is taking matters into its own hands. Ray Chambers, a longtime activist on health issues has organized a coalition of companies that will insist on use of masks by customers and employees. Starbucks led the retail sector last week in mandating the use of masks, along with Walmart, Kohl’s, Costco and Apple. Chambers has persuaded 82 video game makers to put ads into their games which go to 2.5 billion gamers around the world, yielding 20 billion impressions on use of masks as a normal part of life.
The private sector should also institute a national health safety check. This would be a guarantee for customers of restaurants, bars, clubs and shops that the owners have followed a cleaning protocol, have temperature checked their employees, have instituted contact tracing for suppliers, considered spacing of tables to ensure social distancing and mandated temperature checks at the front door. This could be done in conjunction with local public health departments, who would be responsible for enforcement. We must have a national approach to give customers the confidence that they are safe to return; it also takes the decision out of politics and back onto business.
The most important assignment for all of us in communications in the coming months is to assure a consistent flow of quality information. Just this week, Bill Gates had to publicly refute the conspiracy theory claiming that he wants to use coronavirus vaccines to implant tracking chips into people. In our March Trust Barometer supplement, we found that half of the respondents find it difficult to find reliable and trustworthy information about the virus and its effects. Two-thirds said that they worry about fake news about the virus. There is a 25-point gap in trust for women between traditional and social media (69 percent vs. 46 percent) and 23 points for men (70 percent vs. 47 percent). Only 40 percent believe the media is doing a good job of avoiding ideological bias in reporting on the pandemic. Therefore, we must supplement what is covered in media by going direct to end-users. The Chief Public Health Officer could be that trusted spokesperson for employees via owned and social corporate channels.
Richard Edelman is CEO.