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The perfect pivot: Staying relevant and sustainable during changing times

March 17 2021
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The perfect pivot: Staying relevant and sustainable during changing times

One of the things fans loved about the TV show “Friends” was that it had an episode for just about every moment of one’s life. Over the past year, the famous “PIVOT” scene has seemed particularly relevant. Ross, Rachel, and Chandler try to maneuver a new couch up a flight of stairs, with Ross trying everyone’s patience by yelling “PIVOT” over and over in hopes of angling the couch to fit the narrow staircase.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, companies and nonprofit organizations have needed to shift their communications and messaging efforts in large, never-before-seen ways. This has meant us having to shout “PIVOT” at clients (well, not shout; we’d never do that).

New Jersey Health Initiatives (NJHI), a Taft Communications client, is a statewide grantmaking program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. NJHI helps create healthy communities in New Jersey by funding organizations that promote safe and affordable housing, reliable transportation, food security, and more. When the pandemic hit, both exposing and worsening racial inequity in health and the economy, it was important for NJHI to communicate about its work in language and concepts that reflected the organization’s own grantmaking pivots in the face of existential threats to those who NJHI’s grantees serve — and even to the grantees themselves.

Click to TweetClick to tweet: Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, companies and nonprofit organizations have needed to pivot their #communications and #messaging efforts in large, never-before-seen ways. http://ow.ly/93x850E1jpY @taftcomms

Over the past year, we helped clients pivot their communications efforts to meet the devastation and dangers of a pandemic. Adapting to the current climate is important, whether in empowering grantees to help their constituents or breaking into a news cycle that’s flooded with information. During COVID-19, this required a pivot of editorial, marketing, and funding resources to discuss and include the pandemic. But, as “Friends” shows, pivot too little or too much, and the “couch” doesn’t get up the stairs. Taft’s job was to turn every new corner in ways that blended the old and current into an effective overall message­. We found that the key to the perfect pivot was to create messaging that balances a client’s pre-pandemic work with appropriate attention to the impacts of COVID-19.

For NJHI, this meant shifting its communications to include the COVID-19 pandemic while continuing to focus attention on such pre-COVID priorities as housing and food security — though also noting how COVID-19 was affecting these issues. In doing so we spotlighted specific actions that NJHI and its grantees took to support both pandemic relief and their pre-COVID priorities.

For example, we helped NJHI with a Standing Strong For Health Equity video highlighting a few of NJHI’s longstanding social-impact efforts, integrated with information about their actions to address the impact of the pandemic. The video showed how Allies in Caring and Hammonton Health Coalition, two NJHI grantees, provided resources to the immigrant community during the pandemic. The grantees created a free counseling helpline in English and Spanish. By presenting these new efforts, NJHI could share work that tackled the COVID-19 crisis and still speak to the issue of health equity, long a top NJHI priority.

pivot communications

Click to view full-size infographic.

Similarly, in designing a 2020 Year in Review Infographic, we showcased NJHI’s grantmaking efforts while also addressing the support it provided to grantees in the wake of COVID-19. The infographic showed NJHI’s funding efforts before and during the pandemic, both of which helped create healthier communities during 2020. Taft tied together important strands from the ongoing and the new: NJHI’s efforts to advance long-held priorities and to help New Jersey through the pandemic.

More recently, Taft helped take this new messaging to the media. In the nj.com op-ed How do we vaccinate people who don’t come to get the shot?, NJHI Director Bob Atkins discussed how New Jersey can vaccinate hard-to-reach people — older adults without transportation, those suffering from homelessness, agricultural workers, and those who are undocumented. This piece spotlighted the issue of health equity in New Jersey.

Taft helped Bob frame health equity within the context of COVID, again marrying NJHI’s social-impact and COVID-19 efforts. Bob serves as a thought leader on important issues affecting community health, while also advancing efforts to eliminate COVID-19. He’s an expert on the perfect pivot.

Pivoting a client’s messaging in the midst of a global pandemic was a new and challenging task for Taft, but not an entirely foreign concept. In early 2020, Taft had already begun a pivot of its own.

Strategizing and communicating for companies that do good has always been a part of Taft’s DNA. We support clients who address climate change, improving health, fighting systemic racism, and providing meaningful work for employees. However, as the world changed, it became clear that we had to shift the way Taft talks about itself to address these issues more directly.

As a result, Taft pivoted from a firm focused on sector-specific goals to one helping companies and organizations articulate and fully maximize the impact of their core purpose. We pivoted our actions and, to support that pivot, our messaging — to showcase the meaningful work that we do to drive and expand impact. We were able to infuse new goals with aspects of what we did in the past, to amplify and shape our new messaging and our new path forward. This was where Taft learned how to successfully maneuver around the corner of the “staircase” for the first time.

It’s been a challenging year for communication professionals. At times, it seemed as though many companies might break — not unlike (spoiler alert!) “Friends” wound up cutting the couch in half. Effectively pivoting, whether for your own organization or a client, is essential to staying relevant and sustainable. After 2020, Taft can confidently say we’ve mastered the art of pivoting. We know that messaging that balances the past and the present is key to doing a perfect pivot that enables a company to excel in the future.

For help pivoting your message, contact us today.

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