Let’s talk about crisis communications, shall we?
Have you been struggling with how to manage your marketing during a crisis? If so, then you’re in the right place. Throughout the year, there are different types of events that should make us pause and review our marketing.
The recent and most extreme event we have seen lately was the killing of George Floyd and the protests that have followed. In the wake of protests, I found myself having the same conversations with clients over and over again about how to manage your marketing during a crisis.
Basically, my message was:
- Pause your marketing, no one wants to hear from you or buy what you’re selling right now
- Let the voices be heard.
- Also, now is the time to make a statement and join in.
It surprised me how few people knew how to respond or what they should do. This isn’t the time for “business and marketing as usual.”
Then I remembered that not everyone had to spend the week after 9/11, doing nothing but researching disasters and how to manage your marketing during a crisis. As utterly painful as that experience was, it gave me insights into how to respond during these times.
From natural disasters to school shootings, I studied and educated myself on what was recommended – on what companies did right, and what they did badly.
At the time, I was in charge of marketing at a marketing tech company. Our clients were companies like Tiffany’s, Macy’s and other big retailers. It fell to me to help them and create resources for them, like our blog post and newsletter titled, “10 things you should do with your marketing during a crisis”.
Now I teach crisis marketing management as part of the university marketing courses I teach.
I feel so strongly about it that I dedicated an episode of Cannabis Marketing Live to the topic.
Here are the key steps you need to know to market during major events.
What Caused the Crisis?
Was it your company? Before we begin, the first thing to consider is whether or not the crisis was caused by your company. For example,
- Are you Samsung with phones that were blowing up?
- Are you a cannabis company that produced vape pens with illegal oils that were killing people?
- Are you Pepsi, and created a highly racist ad?
If the crisis is of your own making, then your organization has more work to do than just the list below.
What You Need To Do To Manage Your Marketing During A Crisis Major Event, or a Revolution
When the news breaks that there is a tragedy or significant event of any kind, you need to be paying attention. This event could be a school shooting, the death of a beloved public figure, a global pandemic, or it could be a huge national event like the Black Lives Matter protests.
1. Create Space by Pausing Your Marketing Campaigns
No matter what it is, the very first step is to pause all of your marketing.
Social media posts? Pause them.
Paid ads? Pause them.
Email campaigns scheduled? Pause them.
Pause everything you can.
Once everything is paused, then you can move on to the next step.
2. A) Listen to what is being said
As marketers, we have to be informed. How are the events being described? What are the words being used? What are the general feelings about the event? Understand the situation to the best of your ability. Listen to what your target audience is saying about it.
Essentially you need to read the room to get a broad view of the situation.
2. B) If the Crisis Was Caused By Your Company
If the crisis event that happened was something caused by your company, there are other steps that need to be taken that I won’t go into detail here.
Just know that one of the most important things you’ll want to do is create a page on your website that gives up-to-date information for your audience and the press. It also gives your team a central place to direct people to, and it gives your audience a feeling that you’re on top of it.
Note, You might want to do this anyways if it affects your ability to serve your customers.
3. Determine Your Stance and Add Your Voice
Is the event worth acknowledging? Do you have something to add or information your audience needs to know about it?
Lean on your core values and mission to guide you on this one. AND, if your organization doesn’t have core values that align with your beliefs, now is the time to create them.
For example, if your organization values diversity and/or human life, does it make sense to speak up when black people are being murdered by police? Does it make sense for your company to speak up on this topic at any time? (hint: the answer is YES).
If it doesn’t make sense for your business to speak up about a particular event, then don’t do it. Not all events require a statement. For example, if your business has nothing to do with basketball, national icons, or sports, creating a post about the passing of Kobe Bryant might not make sense.
Trust your business values in these times, but also use it as an opportunity to refine your values and mission.
Remember, that increasingly consumers spend more money with companies whose values align with their own. So for many events like what we’re experiencing right now, it isn’t a time to stay quiet. Consumers are demanding that you pick a side and take a stand.
4. Review your marketing campaigns
I was living in Denver, CO when the Columbine shooting happened. It was the first large-scale school shooting and it shook the entire community to our core.
In the middle of trying to recover and move out of mourning, the NRA had huge billboards all over town announcing their annual convention.
No matter how you feel about guns, their message was horrifying and inappropriate.
You don’t want to be the company that’s a laughing stock for posting about a “super viral” new product amid COVID-19, or about Black Lives Matter if your sport, for example, fired someone for peaceful protesting before each game.
Review your campaigns. Read each word and review each image.
Are the language and images appropriate in the current environment? Double-check the wording and even the image backgrounds. In times of crisis, people are more on edge and it is critical to be careful.
5. Keep your marketing paused for an appropriate amount of time.
There is no secret amount of time for this.
There is no guide that says,
“If there was a school shooting, then we should pause our marketing for one day.”
“If there was a global pandemic and everyone is in upheaval, we should pause for a few days to review our campaigns and pivot if we need to.”
Part of the pause of your campaigns will also depend on how your business responds to the events.
If You Discuss the Event then You Don’t Need to Pause
If your company posts images about the event, promoting black voices, and sharing information that is relevant, then your businesses might not need to pause at all.
If You Stay Silent, Then You Need to Pause
But if your company chooses not to take a stand, to stay silent, and not to add their voice by making a statement, then you’ll need to decide how long to stay paused.
This depends on the size and reach of the business as well as the target audience.
In this situation, it comes down to asking, “what will be the impact if I start marketing too soon?”
Will customers leave? Will your business get blasted on social media and in the press?
Determine what is the worst that could happen and then gauge your risk. The longer you wait silently, the less it will be noticed. But, people will notice. So pay attention and know the impact your stance, or your silence will have.
6. Restart Your Campaigns
Once you’ve reviewed your current marketing campaigns, and added your voice, or paused for a specific amount of time, it’s time to restart.
But first, look at your notes from your review, are there any edits that need to be made?
Is it appropriate to be trying to sell right away? That depends on your audience and what you’re promoting.
Be smart about your marketing, and start slowly.
7. Monitor Your Social Media and Email Carefully
So you did it!
You successfully navigated marketing during a crisis. You paused, listened, spoke out, reviewed your campaigns, and started your marketing back up again.
This is where social listening comes in.
Monitor comments on social media, feedback on the Internet, and any replies to marketing emails you send out. Listen to find out what people are saying about other businesses as well as your own.
If you’re sharing information about the crisis or event, social listening can also help you research more and help you understand who the influencers are, what is being said, and where it’s being said.
Don’t be afraid to join the conversations if it makes sense for your business. Remember to be authentic and true to your brand.
Here’s a tip
Don’t delete comments that are asking questions about where your business stands. One of the common responses people have had on Twitter to Black Lives Matter posts has been for a picture of your executive team. That is a legitimate question. Don’t delete it, or others like it. Instead take it as a time for honesty, reflection, and change.
Unless they’re calling your business/employees names or slandering you, in this case, it is better to respond.
Just know that in some events, it’s a fine line, so tread carefully. And never forget my mantra for social media management, “Never engage with crazy.” Who you decide is “crazy” is up to you.
And that’s it.
But that’s Really Not it, Is it?
As we’ve seen lately, there is a lot more work to be done.
As a white business owner with specific values, including that of basic human life, it is up to me to put the support of my business behind the causes and ideas I support. Specifically, for me, the organizations that help support BIPOC.
We increasingly see businesses taking a stand on social, environmental or political issues, which is called, “brand activism”. An article by the BBC points out that, “It’s a trend driven by consumer behaviour, as more and more people expect companies to make a positive contribution to society.”
We need to mean what we say. And back it up with actions not just words.
What Will Your Business Do?
Personally, I feel it is up to me to speak up and support black people and BIPOCs whose voices haven’t been heard. To educate myself and share my platforms when I can.
Each one of us will come to understand what we support and what we respond to in our own ways. Just know that the time where organizations could stand silently by is gone.
There are things we need to learn and things we can do.
If you’re looking for resources to learn more about systematic racism and how we got where we are today, this is a good list to start with.
If you’re looking for where to donate to, then here is a list of places that can use your support.
If you’re looking for a list of BIPOC cannabis and hemp CBD companies to support, here it is.
Your target audience is likely asking if you believe Black Lives Matter. Not just saying the words, but taking the actions to support your stance.
So make sure that you are.
If you have any questions about marketing during a crisis, let me know and we can schedule a time to chat!