I first wrote a version of this article after 9/11. After that fateful event, times got tough, and companies began cutting back. Sometimes they let employees go and stopped there. Other times, they eliminated their marketing — afraid to spend marketing dollars.
Today, in this COVID-19 environment, we know it’s more than letting employees go — businesses are being required to shut their doors to customers. Yet many realize, despite the crisis, it’s important for them to maintain a presence in the marketplace.
Totally eliminating your marketing in turbulent times is not your best move. Every day I open my inbox there is an onslaught of messaging that seems to start out as compassionate, but quickly turns into an aggressive sales pitch. Have you experienced it?
Look, I get it. We have bills to pay, families to feed and need incomes to support ourselves.
It’s a fearful and stressful time, but as sales and leadership expert Meredith Elliott Powell suggested, you can “Recognize, admit and embrace the fear.” And her colleague, leadership coach Mike Staver added, “Embrace the suck (i.e., accept the reality of the circumstances).”
You can keep your message out there and stay top of mind, but do so with authenticity and compassion. Help people solve problems in the moment. As public relations professional Wendy Marx explained, “People are panicking right now. It’s no time to focus on your needs. Look for ways to put your audience in first place and address their needs and concerns.”
For instance, Colorado-based Sunshine Plumbing, Heating & Air offers video plumber services. Its website says, “One of the things that makes Sunshine Plumbing, Heating & Air unique is the ability to diagnose plumbing issues without even having to enter your home — this is especially convenient as we practice social distancing. We proudly offer video plumber services that enable us to video chat with our customers and provide them with diagnoses. Customers can reach us through FaceTime and Facebook Messenger.”
What can you do to help your clients and/or prospects get through this?
First, remember my philosophy on marketing: Marketing (like life) is about building and nurturing relationships.
You can nurture your relationships by putting out valuable information while building your reputation as someone who serves.
Offer what author Gay Hendricks called your “zone of genius.” A zone of genius is the state in which you get into ‘flow,’ find ceaseless inspiration and seem to not only come up with work that is distinguished and unique, but also do so in a way that excels far and beyond what anyone else is doing.”
On his website, Mike Staver offered a video on “How to stay calm and productive in times of crisis.” In visuals, he shares five ways to stay productive and five things to think about everyday. You can also download tips on staying productive.
You can be someone who serves by creating content that addresses what’s happening in the marketplace and:
- Present it in a webinar and/or podcast. Share tips that relate to the current situation that your audience finds beneficial (and helps alleviate their fears and anxiety).
1a. Don’t host your own webinar or podcast, and don’t want to? That’s OK. Reach out to like-minded professionals, people who serve a similar audience, and inquire about being a guest on their programs. My colleague Deb Krier offers a free report on how to boost your credibility and increase your exposure with podcast interviews.
If you don’t know where to begin, check out resources such as Radio Guest List — a site that shares interview opportunities — and see what opportunities exist for your area of expertise. Of course, you can always search Google as well.
- Repurpose the webinar content into an article. Post it on your blog first and then, after 4-5 days post it as a long-form article on your LinkedIn profile. Reach out to a local, trade or national publication to see if they’d like to post it on and/or offline.
- Share your content on social media. Create an uplifting, inspirational meme or take a short tip from your article, tweet it out, post it on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn. When your followers respond (be it a “like,” comment, or share), please be sure to acknowledge them with a reply — even if it’s just two words, “thank you.”
3a. Consider video clips, Facebook Live or Instagram Live posts. My friends at the International Spa Association (ISPA) have offered Instagram Live yoga class sessions with Svati Patangay, Zenoti’s chief wellness officer.
- Reach out to your existing clients — not with a hard-core sales pitch but with a sincere offer to help. It can be a simple, “I’ve been thinking of you during this challenging time.” However, before doing so, do what Meredith Elliott Powell suggested, “Check your intention before you reach out. Make sure your intention is pure.”
I started my copywriting business in Boulder in 1989, when times were also tough. The reason I went out on my own was because people were getting laid off at all the agencies I approached. I was caught in the Colorado recession and repeatedly heard, “Sorry, we’re not hiring. We’re laying people off right now, but if you start a business as a freelancer, we’ll retain your services.”
So I took this as a “sign from above” — it was my opportunity to grab the bull by the horns and start my own business. The Write Direction was born.
Despite lean economic times, I was able to break ground . . . make an impact . . . find clients . . . establish a successful business. It happened because of a concerted effort to market myself and keep marketing.
Don’t give up the ship. You can do the same without breaking the bank. Think back to 9/11. After 9/11 many said they’d never get on an airplane again. Things eventually calmed down and returned to “normal.”
I believe we will get through this. We will navigate to smooth, clear waters, though it will be a new wave of normal. Of course, the big question is, “When?” Whenever we do, if you remain visible, when your competition is not, your compassionate marketing efforts now will keep you top-of-mind later.
Debra Jason is founder of the public relations firm The Write Direction in Boulder.
Approximately 4.47 million Americans overall made initial claims in the week ending April 18, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s figures Thursday morning, a drop of 810,000 million from the week prior. More than 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the past five weeks.