As we all navigate the ongoing coronavirus crisis, many are wondering if marketers should put the brakes on proactive campaigns and PR efforts. Short answer: no, but tread carefully.
In this post we’ll examine some Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to media relations, email marketing and social media. Should you go ahead and run a long-planned campaign about a new product or service? What about an executive-level personnel announcement? Should all social media content be focused on the pandemic, or are people in need of a break?
The best guidance I can give is to first, consider the context, and second, take action with empathy. What might your audience be focused on right now? How would it feel if you received the message you’re about to send? With these thoughts in mind, here are some suggestions:
I’ve been in touch with many members of the media in the last two weeks and they, like many of us, are under tremendous stress. Remember, there’s really only one big story right now, so most of what you suggest that the media cover should at least reference coronavirus. Is there room for other content? Yes. In the view of one editor I emailed with, there’s a need for ‘counterprogramming’ that helps everyone take their minds off the crisis.
- Use common sense. Remember that everyone is thinking about coronavirus and its impact, so at least reference the situation in a pitch to the media or contributed content. Here’s an example from our client, the Wise Investor Group in Reston, Va. It’s a column in the Washington Post about whether or not now is the time to refinance your mortgage due to historically low rates, and begins with a reference to coronavirus.
- Be helpful. Remember that you can be a valuable link to get necessary information out to the public. Is your company providing important public services that people should hear about? Can you offer something for free or a discount that would be useful? Start there.
- Conduct yourself with professionalism and grace.
- Dismiss all non-virus stories out of hand. There is room for stories about other topics, just think through how they’ll be received in the current climate.
- Follow up aggressively. An email to a reporter and a follow-up call is certainly OK, but don’t overdo it—not now. You don’t, for example, want to be the inspiration for this tweet.
- Forget to do your homework. Before reaching out to a member of the media, take the time to see what she or he has been covering in the last few days. This is media relations 101, but perhaps more important now than ever.
In the first days of the coronavirus crisis, it seemed as if everyone felt the need to send out an email to weigh in. Some of them became laughingstocks on social media. People didn’t want to hear what their HVAC company or knitting needle provider were doing to fight the pandemic. They needed critical information, and those other emails quickly became a nuisance.
- Hit the pause button on automated emails or social posts that were set up weeks ago. If you have scheduled content that was set up before the crisis, shut it down or, at the very least, review the content for tone and appropriateness.
- Focus on quality over quantity. Nobody wants to be bombarded right now. Picture the recipient. Is this something they’ll actually want to open given everything else competing for their attention?
- Think about the most useful information you can provide. I’m definitely not saying ‘don’t do business.’ Companies still need to buy software and people still want to cook a nice meal or find ways to connect. Many brands and organizations have something relevant to share right now. Just do so, again, in context with the situation at hand.
- Rely on humor to get your message across. Now is a tricky time to try to be funny.
- Overdo it. Unless you’re the CDC or Johns Hopkins or the governor’s office, just take it a little easy with the emails.
- Stop thinking creatively. Even if now is not the time for aggressive email marketing, it is the time for planning. Use this time to create campaigns for the future when things aren’t quite so intense.
The entire country is stuck at home. Social media usage is through the roof, and people are hungry for useful or entertaining content perhaps now more than ever.
- Align with a cause or community initiative. Now’s a great time for brands to align with non-profits or community groups to do some good in the world. Make these engagements the focus of your social media content.
- Seek engagement but not overt sales. Doing the right thing should be a guiding light.
- Be as human as possible. Everyone is struggling their way through this. Share stories of how your employees are coping and bonding, what they’re doing to stay productive and sane at home, or how they’re juggling the needs of their kids and jobs. There’s a ton of room right now for relatable, human content.
- Forget to address the crisis. Some might think it’s best to let the situation ride out as if they’re not being affected, but it’s best to be transparent and proactive instead of risking coming off as tone-deaf or clueless.
- Fear monger. With the abundance of crisis-related headlines changing by the minute, now is not the time to act like an expert if you’re not actually an expert. It’s better to point your audience to expert sources.
- Share news or important information externally before you do so internally. If there’s a major company announcement to share, make sure your internal people hear it first before they see it on social media.
I hope these tips have been useful to you and I welcome your feedback. I’m working on a future post this week that will shine the light on brands and organizations that are stepping up in ways that are admirable and effective in this crisis. If you see any great examples, send them my way to email@example.com.
“Communicating in a Crisis” is Abel Communications’ ongoing series on how to effectively communicate with your key audiences during the coronavirus pandemic. Share this series by clicking HERE and sending the link to colleagues and friends.