Marketers’ Advice on Operating in a Crisis
June 11, 2020
Over the past few weeks, we’ve gone back and forth on how to appropriately and sufficiently address the events transpiring across the nation and even the world. We’ve had numerous discussions with friends, family and colleagues about issues of systemic racism and inequality – many of which cover topics that ourselves and many others have been invested in for years as part of advocacy efforts around diversity, inclusion and equity. The topics bubbling to the surface right now are complex and harrowing. Despite the shift (and social pressure) in business to confront these topics rather than avoid them, black squares on Instagram and blanket corporate statements are not nearly enough.
As marketers, we are responsible for advising others on how to respond to the cultural climate in a way that is impactful and resonating. The responsibility we have for the messaging being disseminated by our clients – from small, local businesses to Fortune 500 companies – has never been greater. Given the gravity of this moment, we know that our voice and perspectives on these pressing societal issues are not sufficient. So, we went to the source. We asked fellow marketing and business development leaders for their perspectives on effective marketing efforts in the current cultural climate of COVID-19 and international Black Lives Matter protests. While their organizations, roles and industries vary widely, several common themes emerged:
“If you connect to the person in front of you rather than the sale behind them, you’ll be more successful. I’d rather see people make a connection at the expense of a sale than a sale at the expense of a connection.” – Jeff Bajorek, Sales Improvement Consultant
“We’ve been advising our small business clients to focus on strengthening relationships with their customers through strategies like empathy postings and personal storytelling via marketing communication like newsletters and blog posts. Providing resource-rich communication such as links to small business emergency aid will increase their value and help their clients navigate through the crisis.” – Susan Keyloun, Chief Marketing Officer at Gramercy Graphics
“We stand at the precipice of a new opportunity, the chance to begin to re-imagine how we do things and realign our priorities. Cooperation, dialogue, empathy, humility will all be required by organizations to navigate the roads ahead.” – Kenneth Sanchez, Business Development Specialist
“Over the past 3+ months, the most common questions clients are coming to us with are: 1) When is the right time to make a statement? And 2) How do we make a statement and engage in the conversation without exposing ourselves to backlash? There’s an inherent desire to do something, to help when possible, but it’s a double edged sword in an environment where we’re quick to criticize and admonish organizations for making the “wrong” decision or the “wrong” statement. We’ve found our way through as a company and in support of our clients by focusing on doing the right thing now, even if that means sacrificing certain performance goals and KPIs. We’ve encouraged our clients to consider the halo effect: do good now – even if it isn’t driving sales – to maintain or in some instances improve brand equity, for payoff in the future.” – Madelyn Ransom, Account Manager at Integrated Marketing Agency
“This isn’t the time to ask for favors from clients, but rather offer up those value-adds and services that will ease their load. When the storm clears, clients will remember those who genuinely helped them through it. It’s also a great idea to find opportunities to collaborate with clients through charity work, joint programming, or thought leadership.” – Tahisha Pearson Fugate, Business Development Manager at Paul Hastings LLP
“It’s important that brands align their public statements and community messaging with paid media, and know the right time and place to appear. For example, on #blackouttuesday, we urged our clients to remove all ad placements on Instagram, the platform which this “day of silence” took place. Imagine scrolling through a feed of black squares and then seeing an ad telling you to buy your new favorite luxury loungewear. It’s insensitive to the many Americans working to drive social change and can likely lead to negative brand perception in the long run.” – Gwen Schlefer, Account Manager at Bamboo
“Within a rapidly shifting environment, there is no time to stall, no time for deliberation; people must leave data and act upon what is right, considering the human impact of it all.” – Andrew Abel, Digital / Consumer Insights
“My best advice for small business owners is to not retreat. Although we need to be mindful and strategic to what we say and don’t say during these unprecedented times. The truth is, your audience still needs your product and service. Maybe the message changes slightly (maybe it doesn’t). Continue to innovate for your business, your clients, your employees, and the community you serve.” – Margaret Brown, CEO + Founder of SocializeLA.com
“Don’t back away. Don’t be frightened of it, and don’t let anybody keep you stuck in crisis mode. There are some things you’re going to have to do that are pretty critical now, but take a breath and make a plan.” – Debra Harrsch, CEO of Brandwidth Solutions
“Your interactions with your clients—from your thought-leadership content to your phone and video calls—should reflect a calming stability and reinforce your role as a trusted advisor. Yes, you can be vulnerable in those interactions. Yes, you can express uncertainty or doubt in those interactions. But avoid leaving any impressions on your clients that cause them to question your ability to serve them today, tomorrow, or next year.” – Wayne Pollock, Founder of Law Firm Editorial Service
“Regardless of what is happening around us, authenticity in marketing ourselves and our companies cuts through the noise. Find the itch and scratch it. What is the pain point you have a solution for and how can/will you bring that solution to your client/customer? Be creative, be authentic and step away from the fray.” – Margye Solomon, Chief of Staff / MWBE Supplier Diversity Liaison at Envision2bWell
At Bossible, our number one rule around marketing and business development – no matter the circumstances – is to be authentic. There has been a lot of discourse recently around what makes marketing impactful or not during this tumultuous time. It is a constant learning curve for all of us, but an important factor to consider is whether you’re taking actions that are authentic rather than performative. Instead of doing what you “think you should do” or “what everyone else is doing,” think about what feels true to you and your business.
There are many avenues to take depending on your business and industry – from donating food to protestors to creating a company-wide diversity and inclusion task force to giving money to charities that resonate with your values. As shared by poet Lindsay Young on Twitter: “Resistance is NOT a one lane highway. Maybe your lane is protesting, maybe your lane is organizing, maybe your lane is counseling, maybe your lane is art activism, maybe your lane is surviving the day. Do NOT feel guilty for not occupying every lane. We need all of them.”
As business leaders, what is of upmost importance right now is that we act. But, please act thoughtfully. Be empathetic. Be sensitive. Be timely. Be calm. Be authentic. Onward and upward!