When the federal government shut down in December, I felt a responsibility to support Washington, D.C., and its greater community. They embraced my company, &Pizza, when we launched back in 2012. They didn't have to.
Now, it was our turn. As roughly 800,000 government employees and numerous contractors were left wondering when their next paychecks would arrive, we quickly offered free pizza to furloughed federal employees simply because it was the right thing to do.
The common denominator for every brand during times like this is social responsibility. Activism is in &Pizza's DNA. We're part of a community, and members of a community should look out for one another. That's what good people do, and that's how brands and private companies should behave: like people.
Brands will have to address the country's fraught political climate as it lingers. That's uncomfortable territory for those who fear alienating people and jeopardizing themselves financially. But this shouldn't be cavalier at all.
Lives hanging in the balance as a result of situations like the shutdown matter far more than politics. Furloughed workers missed paychecks because of a dispute over a $6 billion wall. That wasn't a partisan issue. That was simply a matter of right and wrong.
Here are three lessons I learned during the 35-day shutdown that I hope can guide and inspire other brands to get involved in the future:
1. Move quickly and be nimble.
According to The Washington Post, the shutdown coincided with the worst part of the year in terms of donations for nonprofit organizations that help struggling families. It's safe to say that no one expected this shutdown to turn into the longest in the country's history, but we didn't let that intimidate us from getting involved.
It was never a question of whether we should do this. It was only a question of how.
We had to move nimbly and evolve with the shutdown to sustain our support, which meant changing our offer to furloughed federal employees multiple times, expanding it to be more inclusive, and listening to feedback from our community. Getting buy-in early and quickly from key stakeholders, preparing operations teams, and ramping up customer service channels can help you stay quick on your feet as plans inevitably change.
2. Harness power in numbers.
I knew our support would be meaningful only if my employees backed the decision and were willing to shift schedules to accommodate the increased demand and lines. The timing of the shutdown also presented operational challenges, as many workers were out on vacation for the holidays.
We were able to make it happen thanks to the fact that our employees were on board and aligned with our mission. Together, we're proud to have donated more than 30,000 pies, to date.
Connecting and joining forces with others in the community lending their support has also shown us the true power in numbers, a key reason we partnered up with Jose Andres and World Central Kitchen in the next phase of our efforts. Engaging employees on their terms and finding like-minded partners will always help sustain and scale efforts.
3. Communicate often and authentically.
Especially as our support took different forms throughout the shutdown, keeping an open line of communication with our customers and government workers looking to us for aid was critical. Our team responded in real-time at all hours via our social channels and Pizza Plug textline to ensure that the community felt informed and up-to-date on all the resources we provided.
We also set up a dedicated page for people to learn more and understand how they could support our cause. This kind of direct communication required hustle, honesty, and transparency--which are essential to making your impact feel authentic to your brand and resonant with those in need.
When the government fails the public, private sector leaders have to step up and support the people who are the most vulnerable. This moment will be remembered as historic for so many of the wrong reasons, but the records will show which companies were on the right side of history.
That should be a long-term goal for any brand or private company. When you see others suffering during a crisis, you should lend a helping hand. As a brand, my company will always do the right thing and put people before politics. It's what a decent person would do.