Guest post by Henry France, Distinction

As marketing teams around the world are adapting to the new ‘normal’, Distinction’s strategy lead, Henry France, is joined by special guest, Greg Simpson of Press For Attention to give some practical advice on what marketeers should be doing now to be in a strong position post COVID-19.

An unprecedented situation – it’s not BAU!

Business as usual cannot continue, even if you’re unaffected by the COVID-19 virus now, it’s likely you will be at some point down the line so now’s the time to stop, reassess and prioritise where effort is best spent. Whilst physical and mental wellbeing is clearly the most important factor, businesses must come to terms with this new reality quickly. And, as the majority of people get comfortable in their new versus old surroundings, there are three stages as to what happens next.

Stage one: “S**t! What do we do?”

The headlines are currently dominated by the pandemic, its effect on industries that will see a boom (food and grocery delivery, remote working software, video games) and a downturn for most others (retail, leisure, and travel). Markets are terrified, cautious, and anxious. Added to this, an economic downturn has been predicted for the UK since August 2019, and some economists predicted the weakest growth outside recession since the second world war last December. Throw COVID-19 into the mix and, for the months to come, it’s not a pretty picture.

With this inevitable first hit, will come a downturn in sales for most, which will lead to the inevitable marketing budget cut, which in turn will lead to further sales slumps. It’s a double hit in that sense but only if we lean into it by thinking we’re doing the right thing in pausing or cutting our marketing spend. We need to arrest the slide by putting in recovery strategies now.

Competitive advantage

Source: Blue Array Facebook – showing how pausing spend is likely to impact clients (from an SEO perspective).


Stage two: Adaption to life online

We all have a new normal to get used to. The transition to ‘being online’ will be steep, but within a matter of weeks we’re becoming used to working, home-schooling, shopping and socialising online. Whilst marketing budgets are cut, online spend should increase. We’re already seeing big traffic increases across the web.

There will be opportunities

In this new semi-temporary world, there are opportunities online to put brands in front of people and, as people start to buy non-essential items as well as their essential items online, brands will need to move quickly whilst staying true to their vision and values. Now is not the time for a misjudged, hard sell that is overtly trying to take advantage of this unprecedented crisis. Brands must put their customers’ needs first and adjust their messaging accordingly because they will be judged on how they react during this time and irreparable damage could be done to their reputation once we come out of the other side. We’ve already witnessed the backlash to Sport Direct’s CEO, Mike Ashley, and his ill-judged response to COVID-19. Brands that adapt their strategy, budgets, and resources accordingly to react to their customers’ behaviour online and serve them even better will be the ones that end up thriving after the inevitable recession.

You’re likely to have some extra time on your hands. All those things that you’ve put off because you’ve prioritised billing, business critical events and general BAU, you can iron out and attack now. We all know that ticking off your to do lists is incredibly rewarding. Here are just a few things you can be doing with this free time:

  • The 4Ps of marketing – don’t just think ‘promotion’ – think product, price and place to add value for your customers.
  • Get recording videos – easily done remotely via Zoom – start with your staff and customers.
  • Do your (marketing) admin – nail down that inbound marketing process, set up a content and social calendar.
  • Exploratory SEO – target different types of SERPs outside your regular optimisation, realise that rich search snippet, indexed video or image.
  • Evaluate your imagery and language – don’t rely on your old media/tov that conveys collaboration through crowds or people touching; it will show you’re out of date.
  • Work on your 2021 strategy now – at the moment it’s about ripping up the rule book as far as marketing tactics are concerned but use this experience to reflect and plan for next year.
  • Take up the offer of free resources – brands have stepped up during this crisis by offering free resources or slashing their rates – see Loom, Moz Academy, Jamm and Adzooma to name but a few.
  • Show your site some love – it’s time to sort any metadata that’s too long/short, make sure your images have alt tags, and that your page speed, broken links, missing resources and any typos are all fixed.

Stage three: Recovering and back to (the new) normal

With global recession now all but a certainty, how can we hope to recover effectively as businesses (and people) after what will surely be viewed as one of the greatest disasters of our time? In all honestly, we just don’t know the full extent of the global geopolitical ramifications that COVID-19 is causing. ​​

But we can look to the past for an idea of what’s to come. During the financial crash of 2008, there was mass panic as businesses went under and media coverage painted the bleakest of pictures. However, we’re still here and, as the world recovered over the last decade from the 2008 recession, it will do so again. We will emerge and adapt, even thrive, once this crisis has passed. ​

Keep calm and carry on

As marketeers wanting the best for our clients and our peers we must put effort into really really good marketing, great messaging that is tone appropriate (seriously BMW!?) and smart targeting. Now more than ever, we need to keep calm and carry on, be more flexible and fluid with our marketing to help businesses that survive will come out the other side of this stronger.

There’s a fine line between wanting to show our human side and opportunism. In these early weeks it’s not appropriate to target new prospects with cold emails (unless you believe they are expecting it). You must balance keeping it as much BAU as possible whilst reassessing tactics for each situation you may find yourself in. Be positive, but not ignorant. ​

Coronavirus will pass. When it does and the dust has settled, make sure you look back at the decisions you made without regret. You may get some decisions wrong, but action will mean you made the utmost effort to best serve your clients, save your staff and your business. Don’t wait for the crisis to affect you, plan for it now. Work on your plan A but have a plan ‘B’ and ‘C’ ready so you’re on the front foot when it comes to marketing in recovery.

Making friends with the media

In terms of media coverage and public relations, just how do we get more people to pay attention and take action? As a former business journalist with over 15 years’ experience in PR, Greg Simpson of Press for Attention has the answers and shares them here.

First things first: take stock

Think about the assets you already have in place that the media will find useful. And think about your current relationships with journalists – are they warm, hot, cold – ice cold? What can you do to improve them? Is PR something you’ve outsourced and want to bring inhouse?

Now concentrate on your supporting assets that the media would find useful:

  • Case studies and/or testimonials, signed off by all stakeholders for use in the media
  • Infographics that support the story you’re telling
  • Current headshots of your CEO and other key persons
  • Data on your marketplace that will show your business in the best possible light within that context

And, with this in mind, decide what story it is that you’re telling. Do you want to launch something? Or relaunch something that didn’t quite get off the ground first time round? You need to be specific so you can measure the success of your campaign. Think about the key titles for whom your story is relevant and what it is your customers actually consume from your business and the outcomes you give them.

Now stop

Take a step back and re-evaluate. Now that you know what you know, you can start to improve things one step at a time so you’re in the optimum position when it comes to turning the media tap on. The best place to consolidate everything the media needs from your business is to create a Newsroom page on your website. An area dedicated to the media, rather than part of your About Us page that the media might stumble across. By doing so, you’ve just made yourself attractive to busy journalists who can see from the main navigation of your site that they’ll be able to find everything they need instantly and from one place when writing their story.

Take a look at the MoSCoW matrix below to prioritise what to put on your Newsroom webpage:

MoSCoW Matrix

Media mastery

Greg has seven top tips to get you into tip-top PR shape post-lockdown, and they are:

  • Get stalking – research your key media and who is writing for them. You can subscribe to a database, but it can get a bit expensive. So, for now, use Google, LinkedIn and Twitter. Set up Google Alerts for news on your marketplace, competitors, and key market issues.
  • Follow and engage – you must resist the urge to pitch and sell as soon as you get a follow back. Engage by adding value to the story and commenting with your opinion when sharing/retweeting. If the journalist reaches out to you, acknowledge this publicly and that you’ll respond by DM.
  • #JournoRequest – crowdsourcing by journalists but beware! It can get a little all-consuming and overwhelming if you try to slavishly reply to everything so set up a stream for this hashtag in your social monitoring tool. Do not promise anything publicly if you can’t follow up.
  • Plan reactive before – there’s a difference between proactive and reactive PR. You know your marketplace, spokespeople, key publications, journalists and target audience so have a plan ready now as to how you’ll react when that perfect opportunity does arise.
  • Photos and images – headshots of key people and relevant imagery should ideally be downloadable from the Newsroom page of your website. Make sure they are current and signed off to be out in the media at any given stage.
  • Think win/win – when it comes to proactive PR, think about how you can help a journalist write a story that both boosts their readership and reputation and boosts your own business.
  • Consider media training – as you become more proactive, think about investing in media training for your key spokespeople. It’s natural to be nervous when speaking to the media and most journalists aren’t out to make your life difficult. It’s often a casual reference made that’s off-message or didn’t come out quite right that can be avoided by proper media training.

Watch the webinar in full below: