We're living in uncertain times due to a terrifying pandemic that continues to raise questions that healthcare professionals can't answer (like do you develop immunity from it if you've already recovered from COVID-19 -- or could you get sick again from it?) combined with economic chaos that's reshaping our economy while creating huge numbers of unemployed workers.
Against that backdrop, two questions we've been hearing are: "Should businesses conduct marketing and PR campaigns?" and if so, "What's constitutes an effective campaign now?"
We recently set to answer those questions in a blog post entitled, "9 Tips and Considerations for Conducting PR When It's Not Business-As-Usual" that appeared in CommPro.Biz.
But after that article appeared, we came across a couple of additional thoughts we wanted to discuss.
For example, one colleague wrote on LinkedIn: "The biggest challenge for companies, IMO: Being relevant while not appearing predatory."
We think that's right, that getting the balance right -- between letting their customers know they're open for business while also being sensitive to what we're all going through, and that this is far from business-as-usual -- will be a big challenge.
For example, we've seen a lot of ads that tout the heroism of their employees. But in our article, we advised companies that their marketing messages need to match reality. That may be a problem because some of those companies don't have a great reputation for how they treat their employees, unfortunately. They need to watch out for articles such as this from VOX: “'I did not sign up for the military. I signed up for Walmart.' What grocery store workers say they’re facing during the pandemic." We think there could be more articles that highlight the discrepancy between messaging and reality, and that could be a problem.
And according to CNN's great "Reliable Sources" newsletter, "Kantor Media held a webinar about 'TV & video consumption in 'the new normal.'" One of the findings was there's been "an even
more pronounced surge in YouTube consumption than Netflix, and a relatively
small decline in 'co-viewing,' or people watching together. That
means increased TV/streaming consumption mostly consists of people scattering
to watch, as opposed to a major bump in shared or family viewing."
But to our perspective, what's important are the implications for advertising. Kantor's "researchers
found that people don't feel that brands should stop marketing during the
pandemic, but that companies need to be careful not to appear as if they're
exploiting it -- a 'fine line,' as media division CEO Andy Brown put
it....But the findings generally reinforced some
key points about increased consumption, acceleration of streaming and the
hunger to return to some semblance of normalcy whenever that's possible..."
We do think the desire to return to normalcy among consumers is important to keep in mind. Marketing functions should keep that in mind when considering how to approach their marketing efforts.
We also expect there to be long-term changes in how we work (more will continue to work from home afterwards) and live, and how we pursue leisure and entertainment. Companies that can anticipate how this will play out should start developing campaigns to address that.
Let us know if you have additional thoughts about how to navigate this crisis from a marketing perspective.
For businesses and nonprofits, as for all of us, the world shifted dramatically with the arrival of COVID-19.
It's certainly far from business-as-usual.
Yet business continues, and organizations need to continue to operate and keep in communication with their employees, customers, and other stakeholders.
This article will offer some ideas of steps to take during the crisis. But before we get into that, we want to thank: healthcare workers who are taking care of others, EMTS and other first responders, along with everyone who work in supermarkets -- those who stock shelves and the cashiers -- and other always-essential stores that remain open, including restaurants -- and everyone in the kitchen -- now offering take-out food. We also want to thanks all those who deliver and transport the things we need as well as cable and phone technicians who are maintaining our Internet capabilities, while we're sheltering in place.
Here are some ideas:
We're going through something that requires the sensitivity of the post-9/11 era and the post-financial crash of 2007-08. And it may be weeks, if not months, before we're able to get back to some sort of normalcy. (Unfortunately, our guess is that this will happen later rather than sooner.) And we think that once we're on the other side of the crisis, there will be significant changes to how we live, work, shop, educate, and entertain ourselves. Companies need to start thinking about what that future may look like. In the meantime, it's an opportunity to re-evaluate what your organization does and how it approach and update that.
- Understand that the media's focus has changed. This is important, especially if you're targeting consumer or national business media (as opposed to trade media): every reporter now also covers how COVID is impacting their regular beat. This is true for trade media, too, since they continue to cover their regular business but they are likely to ask questions about the impact of COVID.
- Recognize that COVID-related layoffs have shrunk a lot of newsrooms. A lot of businesses are suffering -- we're not trying to minimize that. But for PR and marketing functions that work with reporters, it's important to realize that a lot of local and trade media have initiated significant cutbacks on staff. That means that newsrooms may not have the resources to cover your story (even if they did just a few weeks ago).
- Re-evaluate your communications and marketing objectives, strategies, goals, announcements and product roadmaps. Whatever you planned for 2020 may no longer be relevant, starting with launches and trade shows -- especially launches at trade shows. While we don't know yet when the general economy will reopen, you should like at key themes, plans, announcement and goals and adjust them given current conditions. It will require being more flexible and more sensitive to context than usual.
- Stay relevant. Look for ways to support and contribute to your community because they need that support. For a software development client, we suggested offering tips for programmers working from home -- and found some interest among trade reporters. Make sure you and your messaging stays focused on employees and customers (and not on the company itself unless its how the company is taking specific new steps to help employees and customers).
- Postpone unnecessary announcements. Not all announcements are equally important. Those that aren't should be pushed back or dropped. A potential client asked us about issuing a press release to announce a new CEO for a small, international healthcare product company. We told them to hold off on that press release. While trade media continues to publish, it seems like it would be better to wait. For one thing, the news might get lost or overwhelmed amid the COVID news. Please note: some announcements are absolutely necessary; those should go forward but make sure you understand the context of when and how you issue the release. Also keep in mind: your news may not get the coverage it would have just a few months ago.
- Don't try to generate coverage because you're doing something about COVID. Every organization has had to shift its operations to adjust to the current crisis. So doing something to fight COVID isn't enough. You need to have something special to stand apart from what everyone else is doing. There's a lot of COVID messaging. ads, content (including this blog entry) and spam so you need to find ways to break through the clutter. Keep in mind: Jumping on the COVID bandwagon risks making your organization look desperate.
- Find a way to stand out by doing something unexpected but that fits with your brand. This won't work for most brands, but Steak-umm's social media experimented has paid off, according to the Wall St. Journal: "Steak-ummEmerges as Unlikely Coronavirus Misinformation Watchdog: Processed-meat maker encourages Twitter followers not to trust
everything they read; ‘peak irony’ for a brand builder."
- Content remains important. Trade media remains interested in
bylined articles; we've been in touch with a couple of editors in different sectors who have been requesting content for May, June and July. They’re
thinking ahead but some of the planning is taking place now. For the short-term, you still need content for your blog and social media if only to show that your organization is active and current.
- Think long-term. There's still work to be done, even during a crisis. After the dot-com crash and in 2007-8 financial crisis, we used the down time to develop new processes and content for when we came out the other side. We're working with clients to continue to develop relevant content (some of which will be posted after the crisis is over), and we're doing that for ourselves, too.
According to a new Pew Research Center report on media polarization, Americans place their trust in two nearly inverse news media
According to Pew, not surprisingly, 65% of Republicans and those leaning
toward the GOP trust Fox News. By contrast, Democrats
and those who lean that way, 67% trust CNN, 61% trust NBC, and 60%
Again, without taking a stance either Republican or Democratic, this is not surprising but provides some context for what we predicted back in January (which feels like a different era): further fracturing and fragmentation of the media and the country. This Pew report confirms our prediction that Americans are divided by news sources, and that further fragments our country.
Companies need to find ways to talk with both sides. Not to be cynical about it but to be successful, marketing functions will need to be able to tell their stories in two ways, to tailor the story to appeal to two different sets of news teams to reach people on both sides of the aisle.
That's not always easy to do, of course. But it does speak to developing customized pitches (as opposed to sending out a single generic pitch) to the media. It takes more time but could expand coverage of your story.