What Impact Will the Coronavirus Pandemic Have on Digital Marketers and PR Pros?

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Realities of the Industry Disruption

The Coronavirus (COVID-19)  pandemic is changing the game for businesses and consumers around the globe, in a completely unprecedented way. While the full economic fall-out from this pandemic still remains to be seen, it’s obvious that buying behavior has changed in both the B2C and B2B sectors. 

So what does this mean for digital marketers and PR pros? Uncertainty, and opportunity. 

With some industries grinding to a near halt, many companies were quick to cut marketing budgets and pause ad spend, causing an immediate impact to their marketing and PR staff. 

Meanwhile, other organizations are scrambling to deploy Crisis PR and Communications strategies, leading to an increased demand for crisis communications professionals. 

Digital marketers and PR pros who have been working remotely for a long time will also face increased competition for client attention, as many people around the world start to work remotely for the first time ever. 

Employees who have been laid off, or who are facing reduced hours, may begin seeking remote contract jobs as a way to supplement their income, which means vying for new clients attention might become more competitive over the next few months. 

While this industry disruption seems to be equal parts crisis and opportunity for digital marketers, the marketing and PR pros who remain flexible and adaptable stand to win. 

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

In China, the same word is used to describe both crisis and opportunity. And the reality is, the Coronavirus pandemic is providing both crisis and opportunity to marketing and PR pros.

People around the globe are afraid, and operating with a survival mentality. And when people are afraid, they don’t always make the most logical decisions. 

The past week has felt like everyone around the world decided to simultaneously freeze. Long term campaigns have been paused, and some clients have stopped responding to emails. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, other clients are emailing constantly, out of fear and frustration about the economic fallout. 

There’s no doubt, people are panicked, and it’s impacting the way marketers and PR pros go about their course of business. As marketing and PR pros, we need to be mindful of what our clients are going through, and respond to them with compassion and understanding. 

Clients in the certain industries are no doubt more fearful of the economic impact this pandemic will have on their business: 

  • Travel & Tourism – With travel restrictions in place, travel and hospitality businesses are taking a huge hit, because people simply can’t travel freely. Marketing and PR budgets tend to be some of the first line items to be cut. 
  • Influencer Marketing – With ‘shelter in place’ orders in effect in locations around the world,  travel and lifestyle influencers may have their hands tied on offering the experiential photos and posts their audiences have grown accustomed to seeing. Influencers are also fearful of decreased ad spends. 
  • Uber, Lyft, etc – As public health concerns mount, and people take shelter in their homes, the demand for public transportation or shared transportation has decreased exponentially. 
  • Speakers & Event marketers – As events are being cancelled around the globe, speakers and event marketers are being tasked with rescheduling events, refunding ticket prices, and dealing with the financial and logistical fallout. 
  • Commercial Aviation – People aren’t flying commercial right now, period. Not only are people fearful of the pandemic, but restrictions are in place that limit travel. Commercial aviation is feeling the pain. 
  • Private Education (private schools, universities) – Private (and public) education is feeling the pain of the digital divide, in the wake of school closures across the nation. But when it comes to private education, the question of ‘will parents or students continue to pay if their classes are cancelled?’ is in the back of everyone’s mind. 
  • Small Business / Local Business – Many cities in the US (and abroad) have shut down non-essential businesses, and small, local businesses are panicked. With no customers, and no defined end in sight, many small business owners are wondering how they will get paid. 

Meanwhile, clients in other industries are facing unrivaled opportunities for growth: 

  • Media. The demand for media has increased to unprecedented rivals as people shelter in place and stay glued to their phones for relevant news and information. Clients in the media industry (especially digital media) are experiencing a demand like never before. 
  • Alcohol & Cannabis. Historically, the alcohol industry is thought to be a recession proof industry, and I suspect the cannabis industry will follow a similar course. Many dispensaries throughout California are still offering curbside pickup and delivery, while liquor, beer and wine sales are likely to stay solid during this time of panic. 
  • E-commerce (especially essentials). E-commerce is booming as people become increasingly fearful of being in public. Clients in e-commerce (especially those who deal in essential items) stand to profit from increased online sales. 
  • Businesses that provide remote working solutions. More people are being forced to work remotely more than ever before, and they’re seeking solutions to make the transition easier. Clients who offer solutions for working remotely or managing teams remotely, stand to grow exponentially during the pandemic. 
  • Gaming, apps & streaming services. With people being forced to hunker down in their homes, they’ll be forced to find cures for their boredom. Online gaming has already increased in China following the Coronavirus outbreak, and it’s likely to follow suit in the United States. 
  • Food delivery services & membership boxes. Brands like HelloFresh and GrubHub are poised to dominate during this crisis. People need food, and have started to rely on delivery options and membership boxes even more than before. 

There’s no doubt the game has changed for businesses and brands around the world, and thus, the game has changed for digital marketers and PR pros. The reality is, we’ve stepped into the big leagues, and in order to survive, we must be strategic. 

So how should PR pros and digital marketers respond to clients who are fearful right now? And how should marketers and PR pros adapt to the changing needs of clients across the board?

Here’s what we’ve been recommending to clients during this time:

  • Focus on Crisis PR & Communications. During times of uncertainty, it’s more imperative than ever before to communicate with employees, customers and stakeholders in a timely manner. 

By deploying a Crisis PR and Communications strategy, organizations can alleviate employee and customer fears, and keep audiences engaged while everyone is facing unprecedented changes. Don’t allow customers and stakeholders to sit wondering what’s happening; be proactive in communicating with them. 

While the Coronavirus story was still developing, we began ramping up our Crisis PR team, so we could adapt to client’s changing needs. 

  • Find unique solutions to engage employees, and audiences. Many businesses have been effectively forced to close up shop while the pandemic runs its course. But don’t let clients in these industries make the mistake of sitting silent while they wait to reopen. 

Even if your client can’t run their business right now, they can absolutely engage audiences on social media, through email, and in the media. In fact, organizations have a unique opportunity to speak to a captive audience right now. 

By encouraging clients to focus on a communications strategy (which may include social media and media relations), you can help them win customers over in a way they never have before. 

  • Step up as a thought leader. People are afraid right now, and hungry for leaders to step up and lead them through these uncertain times. Similarly, media outlets, news reporters, and editors are actively seeking thought leaders, experts, and business leaders to provide insights, expertise and advice on how to effectively navigate these murky waters. 

With people glued to their phones and the news more than ever before, our clients have a unique opportunity to share their expertise to audiences who need leaders more than ever before. And when business inevitably starts to pick up again, leaders who stepped into that role for their audiences will undoubtedly win. 

  • Help clients reallocate their marketing budgets. Most large organizations have an allocated budget for event marketing, traditional marketing, and event sponsorship. With events being shut down indefinitely, help your clients reallocate their budgets towards appropriate digital marketing and PR channels. 

Clients don’t know what they don’t know, and they need your help to effectively shift their budgets and their strategy. 

Surviving these uncertain times as marketing and PR pros is all about adapting to our client’s changing needs. By meeting our clients where they are right now, we can ensure the survival of our client relationships. 

Overall Sentiment & Forward-Looking Predictions

Surviving this industry disruption, alongside the concurrent economic/health crisis, is going to require a level of commitment, strategy and communication that we’ve never seen before. 

As marketing and PR pros, it’s our obligation to help our clients navigate their uncertain future, and help them deploy unique solutions to the crisis. By shifting our skill sets, and meeting clients where they’re at, we can ease their mounting tensions and win clients for life. 

Change can be a scary thing, and some of us have been doing the same things very well, for a very long time. But the reality is, some of those same skills that served us even a month ago, may not serve us or our clients today. 

Do we want clients to remember us as the leaders who helped them pivot, survive and thrive this tumultuous time, or do we want them to see us as the has-beens who failed to adapt to the disruption? The answer is obvious.