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Covid-19 Update III: Impact on the Engagement Trade

Here are the latest reports from the field from solution provider principals and people at the front lines of the engagement business. One of the biggest lessons in any downturn is how the winners and losers cope.
By Bruce Bolger 
If you can’t reach the CEO at companies this week or next, chances are he or she is working on the bailout loan. Companies of all sizes will probably be tied up for days or weeks figuring out how to make sense of and profit from the Covid-19 bailout bill. Here’s what we’ve been able to find out so far. 
The big re-set process is under way; many new engagement projects on hold. Smart companies use resets to rethink the status quo to make their businesses more resilient for the future, Any project or service not essential to daily operations or already paid and/or contracted for is subject to scrutiny in times like these, except at those companies doing so well as a result of the crisis they don't have time to think. Even some of these successful companies are putting programs on hold for lack of time. Anyone in sales, marketing, and human resources who can't justify the ROI of engagement practices, many of which are conducted year after year without much scrutiny in the name of maintaining budget dollars, may see their programs get chopped. The old ad hoc, reactive way of throwing bright shiny objects at people issues will get increasing scrutiny at more companies, as occurs whenever there is a big re-set. Dollars could loosen up a bit after organizations have received bail-out funds.
Almost every CEO is rethinking business models and management processes. Spending unprecedented time at home and experiencing an almost completely unforeseen challenge of exceptional magnitude, along with the many abrupt changes, have almost every business leader who expects the organization to survive thinking about how to create a better, more resilient organization better suited to the new normal. Addressing the traditional ad hoc, reactive approach to organizational management with silos and related inefficiencies will emerge as a priority for CEOs seeking a more sustainable business model and better experiences for all stakeholders, including their own sense of tranquility and confidence in their organizations. Some will need to develop new business models or products and services.
The end of complacency. The mentality that leads many companies to do the same old thing year after year will not flourish in the new normal, and it's already apparent from the program cancellations in many aspects of the engagement space.
Most marketing and sales departments still don't get the concept of help, not sell. E-mail inboxes, social media posts, and other solicitations so far generally fall into the following categories: information completely irrelevant under the current circumstances to most of us with not even an attempt to change the message for the moment, or those at are equally irrelevant to most of us with some lame effort to sound relevant. Many companies have simply gone dark. Only a few have stepped up their outreach putting the focus on information sharing and how they can help their customers and/or their field, rather than on what they are selling. I think the smartest companies are donating services or information to help clients in need, not worrying right now about the immediate payback because, in the short-term at least, that's not feasible for many companies.
Traditional trade media behind the curve. While the media in the general business, meeting and events business have covered the crisis extensively, it's surprising how little some trade media are talking impact on their fields either at all or in a way that is honestly reflecting what is going on. Some don't even mention it on their web sites. No need to single anyone out, but the trade media is supposed to be the advocate and trusted information resource for their fields, especially during times like these.
The Big Winners and Opportunities
Digital and related engagement and recognition platforms to connect all the stakeholders across the enterprise now that everyone is working at home.
Suppliers of business operating systems (BOS) top help organizations make better decisions.
Online learning will and specifically micro-learning will flourish. 
Surveys and assessment tools to keep monitor engagement across the enterprise
360-brand alignment, coaching, and culture services to achieve cohesiveness in the new work-at-home environment. 
Online information, marketplaces, and other digital commerce solutions will further encroach on traditional models that require face-to-face activities.
Content-based one-to-one communications with all stakeholders to inform instead of sell. 
Face-to-face sales. With trade shows facing several years of uncertainty, and the ability to rapidly change business travel plans, the good old-fashioned sales trip might come back in vogue before national trade shows, as it will be safer for people to meet in small groups. 
Loyalty and rebate programs will shift from transactional to emotional and promotional. Traditional points programs may get disrupted by more targeted approaches when people have less chance to rack up points. 
Surprise-and-delight gifting will become the norm for people at the front lines, and it’s already surging. 
Human capital reporting—many customers, employees, and investors will want to know how companies are responding to this crisis. 
Demand will grow for return-on-investment measurement and HR analytics—the current environment provides neither time or money to waste on activities without a meaningful scorecard.
The Big Losers and What to Do
Motivational event and incentive travel companies will have to focus on more regional, short-term events and find other engagement revenue streams to survive and prosper for the next few years unless a vaccine or some other miracle cure happens sooner. Almost everybody puts a very high value on travel experiences, and that market will come back, but the group aspect will take longer.
National trade shows will have to consider regional spin-offs and reduce the need for the costly and wasteful exhibit model as well as virtual platforms. The more connections people make via digital platforms, the more they wish to meet, but it may be in smaller settings. 
Promotional products are getting pummeled, but distributors can profit from new categories such as facemasks, safety products, and the use of brands in gifting and surprise and delight. 
Traditional spray-and-pray marketing that uses inefficient media and trade shows will get scaled back.
Bright shiny objects. There won’t be as much time or money for ad hoc approaches to addressing business challenges.

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Enterprise Engagement Alliance Education: Certified Engagement Practitioner; Advanced Engaged Practitioner, and Certified Engagement Solution Provider learning and certification programs on how to implement Stakeholder Capitalism principles at the tactical level. 
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Communities: The  Enterprise Engagement Alliance and Advocate and the  Brand Media Coalition free resource centers offering access to the latest research, news, and case studies; discounts, promotions, referrals, and commissions, when appropriate to third-party solution providers from participating coalition solution provider members.
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•  The Engagement Agency at, offering: complete support services for employers, solution providers, and technology firms seeking to profit from formal engagement practices for themselves or their clients, including Brand and Capability audits for solution providers to make sure their products and services are up to date.
•  C-Suite Advisory Service—Education of boards, investors, and C-suite executives on the economics, framework, and implementation processes of Enterprise Engagement. 
•  Speakers Bureau—Select the right speaker on any aspect of engagement for your next event.
•  Mergers and Acquisitions. The Engagement Agency’s Mergers and Acquisition group is aware of multiple companies seeking to purchase firms in the engagement field. Contact Michael Mazer in confidence if your company is potentially for sale at 303-320-3777.

Enterprise Engagement Benchmark Tools: The Enterprise Engagement Alliance offers three tools to help organizations profit from Engagement. Click here to access the tools.
•  ROI of Engagement Calculator. Use this tool to determine the potential return-on-investment of an engagement strategy. 
•  EE Benchmark Indicator. Confidentially benchmark your organization’s Enterprise Engagement practices against organizations and best practices. 
•  Compare Your Company’s Level of Engagement. Quickly compare your organization’s level of engagement to those of others based on the same criteria as the EEA’s Engaged Company Stock Index.
•  Gauge Your Personal Level of Engagement. This survey, donated by Horsepower, enables individuals to gauge their own personal levels of engagement.

For more information, contact Bruce Bolger at, 914-591-7600, ext. 230.

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