Small Biz PR and Marketing During a Global Crisis? Yes, You Can

By Matthew Bretzius,
business.com writer
|
Apr 28, 2020
Image Credit: jacoblund / Getty Images

In times like these, it's easy for small businesses to hunker down and pull back on marketing their companies until it blows over. There may be more opportunity than you think.

Despite any amount of planning, no business can be fully prepared for an economic downturn stemming from a global crisis. Take COVID-19 for example – could we have done anything differently to prevent the initial sting from the national economic slowdown? 

In times like these, it can be easy for small business owners to hunker down and pull back on marketing their companies and services until it all blows over. Besides, millions of people are laid off, and no one is buying goods and services right now, right? Maybe. But there may be more opportunity out there than you think.

Right now, you've got a captive audience of tens (hundreds?) of millions of people across the country who are at home, glued to their TVs, laptops, tablets and mobile phones. And guess what? They still need stuff – businesses still need cloud storage and cybersecurity solutions. People at home need food, medicine, furniture and other goods delivered. Healthcare companies are working at warp speed on equipment and viable treatments. Should I keep going?

It's a scary time out there for businesses right now, but you should still market yourself and keep yourself visible – if not for now, for when this is all over. Below are four ways you can continue PR and marketing initiatives during a global crisis.

Take stock of upcoming announcements. 

The first thing you should do is step back and see how the crisis may impact your business plans for the next 30 days. Were you ramping up to launch a new product or service? Do you have a prominent executive hire that you want to push out into your industry newsfeed? 

Depending on your industry and your service/product offerings, you may want to hold off on that significant announcement until the dust settles within the media from the initial coverage of the crisis. For example, during the COVID-19 quarantine, a company launching a new clothing line may wish to delay their press push to see what the economic impact of the crisis is on their prospective consumers. Conversely, a new TV streaming service may push forward and dedicate more resources to media outreach because they know consumers are stuck at home for an extended period of time and are looking for sources of entertainment.

You don't have to stop marketing your announcements and services during times of crisis, but you should certainly take an audit of how your consumer has been impacted and how the media coverage around your industry has shifted. For many industries – healthcare, entertainment, on-demand delivery (food, entertainment), technology – there is still plenty of opportunity to drive media meaningful media coverage that results in web traffic and sales. 

Dig into nonmedia initiatives. 

If you're not sure you have a compelling way to engage with media during a crisis period, fear not – this is a terrific time to explore other avenues to get in front of those prospective customers, partners or industry folks who are critical to your existence. Digital marketing is a powerful tool – especially during a time like COVID-19 when you have arguably the densest and captive audience you could ever have glued to their devices. The best part – you don’t have to have news to engage your audience and provide insightful content. So, what's right for you?

Social media

If you're not already taking advantage of social media to share information about your company and interact with customers and key industry stakeholders, now is a great time to start. If your small business is still open, even in some capacity, use your social channels to post about your hours, what services are still available, how customers can reach you, etc. If you're running some sort of discount or promotion, post about that, too. In times of crisis, communities band together to support local businesses – make sure you can be found and once you are, potential customers can easily figure out how to reach you and purchase the goods or services that they need.

If you're already using social media or don't feel comfortable making a "soft sell," use the platform in other ways to engage your stakeholders. Share posts thanking front line responders, highlight other local businesses who are struggling more than you, reshare safety guidelines from your local government. You're still getting out in front of your community, and developing name recognition and awareness for later. You're also doing good for the people around you, and consumers and business partners don't forget that.

Email marketing

I'll be the first to complain about the number of marketing emails I get on a daily basis, but I'll also cop to the fact that I've made more than a handful of spur-of-the-moment purchases during quarantine because of something that popped into my inbox. Smart email marketing still drives sales every single day, and if you aren't using this medium to reach consumers right now, you're falling behind your competitors.

The takeaway here is that if you already have an email marketing program in place, continue its cadence. Pulling back puts you out of sight/mind from your customer, while ramping up can have an adverse impact of feeling too aggressive. Alter your content as necessary (highlight sales, new hours, letting people know you’re open, etc.), but continue as normal as possible. If you haven't jumped into email marketing before, now is a good time to start if you have a customer or prospect list already curated. Keep messages simple and concise with clear action items that can drive your recipients to your desired conversion. 

Content marketing

With a media cycle seemingly focused endlessly on the crisis, there is an opportunity for businesses to become their own writers and publishers of valuable information. Whether you want to author a contributed byline to be published by a third-party media outlet, ramp up posting on your company blog, or author a white paper for lead generation; this is a tremendous time for content creation. You’ll never have a captive audience of this size ever again – take advantage of it with high-value content that can drive clicks, email signups or lead capture.

Improve processes and refresh messaging. 

If nothing else, this is a great time to review all of your current PR and marketing processes to see if everything is up to date, or if you can make improvements in how you message your company and its offerings. For most businesses, this gets pushed off because it can be difficult to make adjustments on the fly while operating the day to day. But if things are quiet now, a day's worth of attention can work wonders.

Quick and easy improvements

  • Website
    • Do you have a clear and concise mechanism there for customers to contact you for more information about your services? What about media?
    • Are all the links/pages on your site live, and do they work?
    • Do you have social media buttons on your site linking out to your company profiles?
  • Marketing collateral
    • Do you have a one-pager that highlights your company and its core offerings? Is it up to date?
    • Is your Sales deck current to company branding, pricing models, product offerings, etc.?
    • Has your email list been scrubbed recently? Could your template use a graphic refresh or new calls to action?
  • Online presence
    • Are your social profiles branded properly?
    • Do your executives have updated LinkedIn bios and photos?
    • Are other online profiles (CrunchBase, Yellow Pages, Google Business, etc.) up to date with the most recent address and contact info?

If business has slowed and your day-to-day isn't as active with selling or operating your company, it's a great time to handle some of these things that seem minute but, as a whole, impact your business quite a bit. A little branding maintenance can go a long way.

Don't force it. 

Most importantly, don't try and force anything that doesn't feel organic. While we highlighted above the areas in where we see opportunity during a global crisis, this isn't a time to try and blatantly take advantage of people's hurt and suffering to generate awareness for your brand. Remember several years ago when one brand asked for 2,296 retweets on Twitter in honor of the people who died on 9/11? Yeah, don't do that.

The unfortunate reality of a crisis like COVID-19 is that tens of thousands of businesses, large and small, are affected. Some will never recover. But for most, continued PR and marketing can bring results that impact the business in a positive way, both now and in the future.

I'm President and Partner of FischTank Marketing and PR, a full-service firm NYC. I also teach classes at Drexel University in the Masters of Communications program as an adjunct professor. As a former journalist turned PR professional, I have the unique perspective of having worked on both sides of the media landscape, bringing strategic media relations and marketing insights from time spent both inside and outside the newsroom. I have worked in public relations both in-house and agency-side, helping organizations of all sizes to amplify their message through smart storytelling that resonates with relevant media. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in journalism from West Virginia University in 2007, with a minor in sports psychology. I also hold a Master’s degree in Communications/Public Relations from Drexel University.
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