How to Survive a Brand Quarantine During Covid-19

This isn’t the time to run a scheduled campaign; strategies need to adjust

Leaders from Glossier, Shopify, Mastercard and more will take the stage at Brandweek to share what strategies set them apart and how they incorporate the most valued emerging trends. Register to join us this September 23–26 in Phoenix, Arizona.

As publicists, brand marketers and agency owners, many of us are not prepared for the coronavirus. Most of us have never lived during a pandemic, let alone personally experienced one. This is where crisis communications training will become invaluable. We are used to helping clients with short term PR fiascos or crisis com issues. But make no mistake—we must prepare for an ongoing crisis. This will not be a crisis that will go away any time soon. As marketers, don’t keep marketing with your head in the sand.

In the agency world, how marketers handle Covid-19 will separate the pros from the amateurs. Remember when everyone thought they could buy social media services for a few hundred dollars because their kid in college could do it? Now this will reset the playing field.

This will be a time when it will suddenly be glaringly obvious why certain agencies charge a premium for marketing and PR services. The bottom of the barrel marketers will keep marketing through this as if nothing is going on. Their posts will be tone deaf. They will not pause scheduled tweets or pre-written content for campaigns and will continue to market as if we were still living in a pre-Covid-19 digital environment.

The premium agency pros, however, will know now is the time to pause and reflect. Strategy means knowing when to stay silent just as much as it means knowing what to post and when. Clients may hem and haw and ask, “What am I paying you for if you aren’t going to post anything?” They are paying you because you know the difference between when to shout from the rooftop and when to be quiet.

Do not use this as a cheap marketing ploy to get more customers for your brand. Unless you are a medical professional, tread lightly with the content you put out. This means doing a total 360 on your social media marketing strategy. Now is not the time to share the beautiful creative you had prepared 90 days out. Save it for another day or another quarter.

Strategy means knowing when to stay silent just as much as it means knowing what to post and when.

Covid-19 will impact every sector and industry, including marketing, public relations and social media.

How do we market and publicize in a post-Covid-19 environment where every other story is about Covid-19? What we can say that is helpful? Brands can’t stay silent forever, so when is a good time to inject your brand into the conversation?

We need to understand the changing needs of consumers and their emotional state of mind, and we must take that into consideration when marketing to them. If people are afraid, now is not the time to pretend they aren’t. Additionally, it is also not the time to market to a state of fear or panic. You must walk a fine line.

If you are in PR, don’t try to hijack the news as a public relations hook to get increased brand mentions. Only 1% of people will get it right while the other 99% will get it wrong and suffer irreparable brand damage. People will remember how you handle your marketing during this time. The risk of a negative brand association is far greater than the upside of a positive brand association. If you don’t have anything to contribute to the conversation, stay quiet. It is better to stay quiet than to contribute noise.

Pause your scheduled tweets. Ramp up your customer service on social media. If you are in the travel sector, people will be tweeting at your brand for refunds or cancellation policies at a higher volume. You must be prepared to service these requests with your social media team.

Now is a great time to focus on marketing, branding or PR projects that have been put on the back burner and do not require the daily immediacy of social media posting. Here are some ideas:

SEO historical optimization: Rewrite old blog posts and update your content for answer engine optimization and updated keywords to try to appear in featured snippets.

PR materials: Is the executive bio up to date that you have been pitching to the media for the past two years? Could a fact sheet use a refresher? What about enhancing a headshot?

Interviews: Invest in a good webcam, microphone and lighting. Set up an in-studio environment and guide your clients through this process so they can be available to do Skype interviews from home if the media requests them. If you are asked to self-quarantine, you can still do interviews from the comfort of your own home.

Website: Everyone dreads redoing their website or thinking about their brand purpose. Now is a perfect time to think about this and take a stab at a refresh.

Organizing collateral: Have 1,000 photos from client events saved on your computer? Now is a perfect time to organize them.

The bottom line is to invest time and resources in high-level strategic PR and marketing activities. As marketers and publicists, we often say that we wish we had extra hours and if only we had more time. Well, now we do. Let’s spend this time as effectively as possible for clients to get the most value from our services. In a social media-driven world that is dictated by the endorphin rush of on-demand marketing, this is a good wakeup call and reminder to marketers that strategy still matters.

If your brand is quarantined, spend more time on strategy and less time on using this as a quick hit PR and marketing opportunity. A national health crisis and pandemic is not a marketing opportunity.

Final tip: If you do want to give back as part of a corporal social responsibility initiative, consider creating branded hand sanitizers (if some promotional companies still have them available) and give them away for free. Yes, it will cost you a few thousand dollars, but it is a nice thing to do. Also, consider creating a social media campaign that encourages people to stay home. Italy is leading the way with this with the creation of the #IStayHome social media marketing campaign, and brands could do this on a hyper-local level.