COVID-19 Mar/Comm Advice for our Clients

March 15, 2020

What you should be doing now about your brand during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the 14 days up until March 12th, there were 1.01 million news stories about the coronavirus. In the same time period, social posts reached 83.8 million. We advised clients a week ago that they needed to adjust their marketing immediately. No brand can spend against this level of fear and noise. Remember the adage our own Steve Atkins has shared for decades: When you have a belief, facts don’t matter. 

We’re sharing here the advice we have given our clients: it’s time to stop, drop, and roll.

Winter Prosapio

So what should you do? Some of it depends on the space you are operating in; some of it depends on your current brand position. We’ll share here what we are recommending for the travel industry which is currently in free fall; we’ll talk about the healthcare and service industries in a future post.

Over 83.8 million conversations are going on around you and it’s unlikely anything your brand says, no matter how factual (ex we have no cases in our community, it’s not that serious, we can take care of this with simple hygiene), will resonate. Instead, it will likely backfire. With that in mind, we’re sharing here the advice we have given our clients: it’s time to stop, drop, and roll:

  • Stop any lower funnel spending designed to get consumers to pull triggers. We do not advise encouraging domestic travel with some sort of stay-cation or local message. “See the US” and “don’t let coronavirus stop you” are tone-deaf messages when people are reading about mass cancellations and learning about alarming cases overseas. Still we advise against going totally dark. No one should be in a position to cold-start your marketing in 30 or 60 or even 90 days. You want to give those ‘stuck at home’ consumers something to think about and look forward to once the public believes travel is safe again. All that said, local conditions require careful consideration of multiple factors including local employment, pressure from elected officials, and community reaction.
  • During this time examine your current general brand-level messaging to be sure it’s not inadvertently insensitive and keep those long term tactics in place. 
  • Drop any penalties or friction in cancellation/rescheduling in your system and make information about your approach to visitor safety very, very visible. Arm your front line staff with information – and while you’re at it make sure every employee knows exactly what you are doing in terms of following enhanced cleaning procedures. Your policies on working when feeling ill should be crystal clear; anyone who is ill should not be at work, interacting with guests and visitors. The last thing you need is for a visitor to interact with a staff member who tells them they “had” to come into work while sick.
  • When considering canceling events, be aware that amid growing calls by officials to stop gatherings of more than 200 people, your venue or destination may seem to be endangering the public by NOT canceling. These decisions are complex and ones only you can make, but understand your brand risk and the perception of your decision as at least one factor.
  • Roll out your planning for post-coronavirus marketing. Pent up demand and hopes for recovery will mean every destination will be fighting for visitors when the public begins to feel that it’s safe to travel. Make sure you have a plan, a message, and buy-in from your stakeholders to do what it takes to punch through the clutter. And to repeat our earlier point – do not go dark. It’s a lot easier to get up to speed from 30 miles an hour than from zero.

There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic is having a crushing impact on all our carefully laid plans, no matter what industry you’re in (short of certain paper goods and disinfecting supplies). Only by adjusting to this crisis and keeping our eyes on the future will we prove the resilience of our industry, our communities, and our brands.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Winter D. Prosapio heads up Public Relations, Social Media, and Communications for The Atkins Group. She has 30 years of experience in marketing and a black belt in crisis communications.