Beyond ‘These Uncertain Times’

Marketing to Public Safety During a Crisis

We are experiencing no ordinary crisis. Between the pandemic, recession and social upheaval, this will likely be a defining moment for several generations, with consequences for our way of life we may not be able to fully recognize for years.

What can you say about marketing to public safety at a time like this? At first, during the pandemic we saw tone-deaf ads or messaging that seemed to be living in a parallel world where it’s “business as usual.” (Really, you’re advertising for a conference now?) In the consumer world, organizations that were agile, paused those efforts and then we saw heartfelt, well-done TV ads of thanks to first responders and healthcare practitioners that provided unexpected warmth and goodwill. (Who would have thought the job-search company, Indeed, could inspire empathy while also reminding people out of work that they’re here to help.)

Then the message was expanded to appreciation for all essential workers, which included cashiers, restaurant staff, farmers, sanitation workers and others we never really thought about before in this context. “We’re all in this together” was the aspirational tagline for just about every ad.

Now, “in these uncertain times” seems to be the theme of all marketing and will likely continue in the foreseeable future. Your challenge is crafting an appropriate message to a public safety
audience that can be a bit jaded, if not cynical at times. Be authentic as you keep your brand in front of customers, and be agile and ready when things get back to “normal.”

“In these uncertain times” seems to be the theme of all marketing right now, and will likely continue through the recession.

Whether it’s a global pandemic, unprecedented national protests or the next crisis of more
normal dimensions, before doing outreach, ask yourself a few key questions:

  • How are my customers affected by the crisis? Do I have anything to say to them that is useful, and not just adding to the noise? What kind of message feels genuine for what my brand stands for, in terms of vision and values.
  • Is my company critical enough to customers that I need to reassure them that it has continuity plans in place and will continue to provide uninterrupted service?
  • Do I need to pause any marketing outreach already scheduled, that’s not appropriate?
  • When is the right time to start up everyday marketing again, in terms of “the new normal”?

(By the way, we’ve been asked about email messaging versus social media to get initial messages out quickly. I can make the case that email is generally seen as more credible and serious, and that social media platforms tend to be more frivolous and less business like. We think both can be effective, if done well. But, at least in current times, email is probably the safer bet for most firms.)

Let’s take a look at the last question, about when to restart. Unlike a crisis that is confined to a time and place (think Hurricane Katrina) and is somewhat knowable, the pandemic, the recession when combined with protests are so confounding because of what we don’t know.

Will outbreaks continue after physical distancing rules relax? Will there be a second wave of infection this fall? When will the economy recover and how deeply will it affect public safety budgets? Will the social upheaval divide us a nation even further or ultimately bring us closer

When Not to Cut Your Marketing Budget

When to restart will vary from organization to organization, but the one thing you can be sure of is that companies that don’t slash their marketing budgets during a crisis or recession are likely to come out stronger. They see it as an opportunity for visibility and to gain market share, while others hunker down. That doesn’t mean they keep spending on the same things or at the same level, but the smart companies strategically think about what marketing activities make the most sense.

Some gear up for the return, doing a diagnostic on their marketing assets and looking at those things that are important but perhaps not as urgent (for example, collateral for a trade show.) Some of the money that once went to travel and conference sponsorships can be re-purposed for other activities:

  • Does your website use best practices and responsive design to engage viewers on any device? If it’s been more than a few years since you’ve had a redesign, your site may need some optimizing. Is the site up-to-date with your most current positioning and messaging aligned with your “why”?
  • What about beefing up content with those case study videos and endorsements you’ve
    been thinking about forever (and we predict the Zoom interview is here to stay.)
  • Do you have an inventory of content ready to go?

Take advantage of the decrease in travel (and all that time you’re not wasting in airports) to make sure your basics are in place.

Showing Value is Key

For the expected recession, do you have a campaign already thought through that shows the value of your product or service—and why it is essential? Are you prepared to help your customers with a variety of grants they could potentially use toward your product or service?

Of course, if you have products and services useful to the public safety response to the crisis, don’t be bashful—but don’t look like you’re pandering either. With the best intentions, one firm offered their service to public safety for free during the early days of the pandemic, but how it was worded and the timing frankly made it come across as just taking advantage. We’ve also seen firms of every stripe partner with non-profits or membership organizations to very successfully produce webinars that look at every aspect of the pandemic, from staffing and HR issues, to proper PPE to surveillance. One webinar dealing with PTSD and resilience had more than 10,000 registrants. While providing great branding for that sponsor, it also delivered a remarkable number of leads.

How do you replace the conference experience?

For many public safety companies, the pandemic wiped out their most critical sales and
marketing opportunity—the trade show or conference. How do you replace the personal connections and engagement you get with meeting people face-to-face, at the booth, in group
discussions or over a business dinner? The fact is, you can’t.

While some public safety conferences scheduled in 2020 are still claiming they’ll be held, most surveys show people are not ready yet to travel or attend (even if their budgets and work-load
would allow.) You may not be able to shake someone’s hand as readily these days, but we’re
all engaging electronically in small groups with video conference platforms. One client had a live, in-person user group meeting of 40 people planned before the shutdown. Rather than
reschedule, they quickly pivoted to make it virtual using WebEx. The experience was positive
and will likely change the way they think about travel to clients in the future.

Being Strategic Means Being Proactive

To be successful “in these uncertain times,” keep marketing fundamentals top of mind. Be agile and strategic with your messaging and scheduled campaigns. Look to partnerships with associations and non-profits on education-oriented content that uses webinars and other
channels to provide value. As a client once told me, “never let a crisis go to waste.” What he meant was, in times of crisis, a brand can shine. It all depends on how you react and present
yourself to your customers, prospects and to the profession as a whole.

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