Kiss Normal Goodbye for a While

Aside from the fact that you can’t spell “pandemic” without “panic,” the times we’re living in at the moment have to force any company to take a hard look at its public relations and marketing efforts in the midst of a media myopia focused on a single dominant topic, in this case the coronavirus.

Right now, if you don’t have news or insight that is truly relevant to their wall-to-wall coronavirus coverage, it’s probably best to just stay quiet until the media eventually start to cede some airtime or news space to other, more “normal” topics.

There are exceptions. We represent technology companies, and the tech news media – while still devoting a lot of attention to the Big Story – are at least still receptive to non-viral topics. But for our financial services clients, it is clear that the media in that industry – like most everywhere else – are playing a one-note concerto, so it just wouldn’t be worth it right now to make a news announcement that will go nowhere.

On the positive side, if you have bad news that you have to make public for some reason, this would be a good time to announce it, since no one’s paying attention. You don’t have to wait until Friday afternoons, like usual, to be sure the negative news stays hidden.

Beyond news announcements, though, if you are considering making some kind of statement related to the coronavirus, our advice would be two-fold: First, make sure it is truly relevant, and second, make sure it is a customer-focused statement, not an internal or self-serving one.

We’ve gotten several emails from companies telling us, for example, all the caring things they’re doing to accommodate their employees in this turbulent time. That’s great, but why we should be particularly concerned about that, we’re not sure. Guess it’s just a bit of virtue signaling.

Other companies are at least making the effort to be customer-focused, but not quite hitting all the right notes. We’ve seen messages telling us that we should not worry about continuing to patronize Company X because they’re making sure they clean everything really well. We had sort of hoped they were always keeping the place clean, but apparently not. So be careful about the subliminal message you might convey.

We’re also not sure that in most cases these messages need to be emailed/texted/tweeted out. Maybe just a little note on the website would be sufficient, especially for companies with limited on-premises customer traffic.

We’re all struggling to adapt to this current reality, which sadly will likely cause the death of a lot of small businesses due to the mandatory shutdowns that many cities and states are imposing and the self-shutdowns that many businesses are doing in their attempt to get with the program. In the meantime, we hope we all can salvage some sense of normalcy for the duration.