Companies in nearly every segment of the economy are staring down a different reality from what they faced even a month ago. The emotional landscape has shifted as well, with customers fearful for both their incomes and their health.
One discipline that has needed to regroup overnight is marketing and communications. To get a handle on how messaging needs to be handled in the face of the current crisis, I spoke with three of the sharpest experts I know:
• Yaniv Masjedi, CMO of business communications company Nextiva. Masjedi has been with Nextiva since its start in 2008, when it was “just four employees and a great idea” through now: with over 1,000 employees, it’s the largest and fastest-growing software company in Arizona.
• Cari Sommer, CEO of RAISE Communications. Sommer is a communications advisor to tech CEOs, and her company specializes in PR, content strategy and thought leadership for high-growth venture-backed tech companies.
• Ann Noder, a former TV anchor who is now CEO of Pitch Public Relations, which specializes in national media for consumer and B2B companies including startups and major brands.
Micah Solomon, Senior Contributor, Forbes.com, Customer Experience Expert: What should companies do now to pivot their PR strategies–if, in fact, they do need to pivot?
Masjedi: The headline here needs to be, “be customer focused, not company focused.” Of course, this is good advice in strong economies as well, but it matters even more right now. No matter how proud you are of the latest iteration of your software, for example, consumers right now need to know that you’re seeing the world through their viewpoint and only marketing to them in ways that are truly helpful to them, not based on some pre-determined, internally developed, marketing schedule.
Sommer: Exactly. Painful though it may be to do so, throw out your messaging from two weeks ago. It doesn’t matter. Refresh your messaging with why your business is relevant to customers right now. There’s just no way to talk about your product or service–especially in tech–without addressing why it’s critical right now. And really watch your tone. As Yaniv said, no matter how proud you are of your team or your product, be humble in your messaging.
Solomon: Are there any new or enhanced opportunities in what is, overall, a rather grim landscape?
Masjedi: There certainly are some opportunities that vary by industry. It goes almost without saying that if your product or service was already particularly aligned with the work-from-home revolution, this is really your moment to shine. But I do think, as we’ve all been saying here, that you can’t be too celebratory about it. Helpful is the right way to be in this moment–both in the actual product and pricing moves you make and in how you communicate to your market and community.
Noder: Right now, reporters are turning to experts, executives, companies, and products that provide their readers (or viewers) with insight and solutions that will help them in their daily lives. That means that it’s an opportunity to leverage the relevancy of your company. But it’s a shift from straight–out promotion to focusing on ways to genuinely provide support and help.
Also, If you’ve never considered broadcast interviews, now is a time to explore it. All interviews (from national TV to affiliates across the country) are now being conducted remotely (think Skype or Zoom) so you can be going on the air in NYC from your office in Denver.
Sommer: There is a real opportunity right now for companies to share data-driven stories about how the market is changing. Now is the time to be taking a close look at trends and sharing those insights and success stories. The other opportunity right now is for company founders and executives to share a behind-the-scenes look at how their company is adapting to this new world of work. It’s widely agreed that we’re in a moment of change. Especially in tech and particularly for startups, people want to learn from one another and be inspired.
Solomon: Who is getting this wrong? Any particularly unfortunate examples you’re up for sharing?
Noder: Oh my, there are so many. I don’t want to pick on anyone, but a lot of companies are sending out messaging that hasn’t been thought through. I’ve even received a few robot emails from companies that start off with, “Have you been affected by COVID-19?” I mean, really? Who hasn’t? Companies can do better than that in trying to attach relevancy.
Masjedi: Indeed, what Ann has mentioned is a good place to start in stressing what to avoid: don’t send out those silly boilerplate emails. And while you’re at it, the super-generic “we’ll all get through this together” ads aren’t great either. You know this kind of messaging is tired when SNL is parodying it.
Solomon: To end on a positive note, any examples of companies or individuals who have been threading the needle successfully in the current crisis?
Sommer: Tech:NYC has done an incredible job of quickly harnessing resources and other information for the NYC tech community. Cate Luzio of Luminary has done a phenomenal job too. Cate is a real voice in the media for women in business and not only has she transferred over in warp speed to a digital community, she has also been sharing a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s been like for her to pull this off. She has a lot of heart and she’s not afraid to show it. And Jaime Klein of Inspire Human Resources has become a destination for the changing world of work and all the associated HR challenges during this pandemic. She and her team are doing a ton of heavy lifting on synthesizing the rapidly changing information about the world of work.
There are also a lot of nonprofits that are doing hard work and educating the public about what’s going on, where they can help and how to get involved, for example, here in NYC, New York Cares (NY Cares).
Noder: One of our clients, RentPath, is in the apartment rental space. It has positioned itself as a resource to reporters, offering tips and advice on everything from best safety practices to how to talk to landlords about rent. The strategy has paid off with extensive media coverage in major TV markets and national online coverage. They aren’t touting themselves but instead are offering information, yet in the end, the company benefits from the exposure.
Masjedi: The companies that are doing best are the ones that have realized their chances to help out here may go beyond their usual scope of work: either by broadening that scope or by going deeper than they usually do in being helpful to their customers. Likewise, I’m impressed by the companies that have really made sincere and meaningful assistance to the communities where they, and/or their customers, operate. If you’re actually doing the right thing, then communicating is almost the easy part.