Jarrett (Jarrett Rush, director of content marketing): We are a little more than a week into an evolving Coronavirus situation without a clear end in sight. First, how do you think companies have responded in general?
Alexis (Alexis Diehl, public relations manager): I think some of this initial outreach has been overkill. I don't know why I would need to know how the company I bought a shirt from that one time is handling the crisis.
Kady (Kady White, digital strategist): Even if it's overkill, I think the messaging has been focused on the safety of both customers and employees, which is the right way to go. It’s also interesting to see which companies step up as far as providing paid sick leave and other benefits.
Jarrett: Will knowing which companies are taking extra steps to protect employees affect your purchase decisions in the future?
Kady: Absolutely. I am more inclined to patronize a company that does the right thing and prioritizes the safety of its employees.
Jarrett: What about in terms of B2B and, more specifically, B2B tech companies. How have they responded?
Talissa (Talissa Beall, social media manager): I really like how Gartner has handled things on social, they pivoted to providing things that are useful to their audience, like crisis webinars.
Alexis: Grove Collaborative (my monthly cleaning supply/paper product subscription service) actually sent out good info and has been able to keep up with things like toilet paper, so people don't have to leave home. They actually also used this opportunity to boost app usage, because you could only put in a supplemental order (outside of the monthly box) via the app.
Kady: For B2B, it’s sort of forcing us to remember that every company ultimately sells to other humans, if you work with retailers or restaurants, for example, you are now having to completely rethink your approach and trajectory.
Alexis: Agreed. Although B2B doesn't seem like a sector that would be too hard hit, I think companies are putting all decisions on hold right now.
Talissa: From a social perspective, I'm seeing a lot of B2B focused businesses shift their messaging to benefit the public vs. be self-serving. More tips on working from home, protecting yourself from COVID, preparing for the unexpected, etc.
Jarrett: We are now past those initial reactions. How should B2B tech companies, or businesses in general, be planning to handle PR, social, and marketing going forward, especially without an end in sight?
Kady: Plan to be nimble. Be flexible. Come to the table with creative solutions. Did your trade show get cancelled? How can you use that budget for a paid social campaign? Are salespeople having a harder time reaching leads? How can you accommodate your sales processes to be more adaptive?
Alexis: I think that entirely depends on how bad it gets. If we start to see an end in sight, I think business will start to get back to normal, but if companies start filing for bankruptcy and the death toll rises, I don't think there will be much of a point for PR unless it will TRULY help people RIGHT NOW.
And keep a close eye on the trades. Mainstream media is basically off limits until this blows over, but as long as the trades are still covering industry news, I think we have options for PR campaigns
Jarrett: Even if those campaigns are in trades, does messaging or tone need to change?
Alexis: Yes. We've been working with several clients to subtly adjust messaging to address the current situation. Saying things like, "as more Americans work remotely" and "with an unsure economic future ahead" but not directly saying Coronavirus
Talissa: For social, I've been letting clients know we can proceed, but with caution. Any prescheduled content should be carefully evaluated to make sure it isn't insensitive in any manner. I've been removing any celebratory language since these are less than cheery times. B2B tech doesn't need to pause on social unless something drastic takes place. I've been telling clients that we're carefully monitoring the situation throughout each day and will flag them if we think there is a need to pause or if there is cause for concern. From a paid perspective, we're watching campaigns to make sure performance isn't tanking.
I am telling clients from both an organic and paid perspective that COVID will likely have some sort of impact on social performance and we don't have a precedent for us to compare this against. I'm also reminding them that everyone is going to experience this within their category.
Jarrett: What long-term ramifications do you all expect to see? Is this going to change our approaches to PR, social media , and marketing in a lasting way?
Kady: I think we have a long ride still ahead of us, so it's hard to know what to expect since this is so unprecedented.
Talissa: I think it may make people more open to the idea of digital marketing since it's been one of the ways businesses have been able to continue to deliver messaging.
Kady: But I also hope that this encourages people to take approach their efforts from a place of being helpful, which is good marketing anyway. Stop worrying about how to sell someone and start thinking about how you can help them. It’s Inbound 101.
Jarrett: Also, lots of businesses and organizations are making their content free, at least temporarily. Kady, what affect do you think that will have on the world of gated assets?
Kady: Open the gates! It can be just as valuable from a marketing perspective to position yourself as a resource and thought leader. If you do that well, you will still capture leads by nurturing your audience.
Talissa: I wonder if those new readers will be angry if they go back to gated.
Kady: Well, there's a difference between gated and then like, behind a paywall. Ungating by removing barriers to content doesn't feel like a bad move.
Talissa: I could see some companies trying to be opportunistic. "You’ve enjoyed your COVID trial, now please fork over $100"
Alexis: Hahaha truth
Jarrett: Yuck. But also accurate.
Alexis: There are so many variables at play here. We humans have very short memories, so if this runs its course in a matter of weeks, I don't really think it will have a long-term affect. As a country, we're already so much more in tune with sensitive topics—racism, sexism, ageism, etc.
Kady: But, right now, until there are more answers, be helpful. We don't know if this will be several weeks or months, or possibly more.