Most Americans saw what was happening in New Orleans online, on TV and in their newspapers, but only those in southeastern Louisiana could ever have known what that experience was like. Those residents were forced to flee their homes, lost all of their belongings, and n the eyes of the ASPCA and so many of us, forced in many cases to leave perhaps their most valuable family member at home, their beloved pets.
As the ASPCA’s AOR, my team’s objective was to raise awareness for a fund that the ASPCA had started to reunite pets with their owners. (It brilliantly involved grants from the national organization to local shelters encouraging and incenting them to hold on to Katrina “orphans” until their rightful and heartbroken owners were identified.) The task required a rapid deployment of crisis communications, strong messaging and media relations capabilities, and a team committed to the urgency. The more than $10 million that our PR efforts raised for “the A” in a matter of weeks is no doubt one of the proudest achievements of my professional career.
Our campaign was national, and broad in scope. We helped people understand what it must be like for New Orleans residents to lose a beloved pet amidst all the other tragedies that had befallen them. (Personally, I can’t even imagine. My four-legged family member has played an integral part in this current chapter, either by warming my feet, or by adding levity and comfort to endless Zoom calls.)
This time, of course, we have a different communications challenge. The impact to U.S. business has not been as deep since the Great Depression. Companies already have made one, two and even three rounds of cuts. Those that are smart, and able, will shift their focus, and may even come out stronger. Many won’t be able to and sadly won’t make it.
If I hear one word lately that is applicable to so much — it is fatigue. Whether that means you’re tired of your quarantine company (never the four-legged ones of course), or you have Zoom fatigue, or cooking fatigue, or homeschooling fatigue, or you have physical fatigue from sleepless nights working to pull your business out of a nosedive, we are all fatigued. Perhaps most of all, we’re sick of talking about it. I don’t know about you, but I am scanning my inbox and opening first any e-mail that DOESN’T say coronavirus, pandemic, COVID-19 or anything related to quarantine. I want some normalcy to my abnormal days (although consulting for six years has already found me long in athleisure).
The media has ignited a 24/7 coronavirus frenzy. They are doing a fine job of relating everything to the pandemic. And of course, because every corner of the globe is dealing with this, every outlet — news, trade, even fashion — is talking about the virus. So, the bad news is there is nowhere to hide. But the communications opportunity for your owned channels is that you don’t have to use even single extra word to explain. In fact, please don’t.
What you have is an opportunity — an opportunity to speak to your customers, to have empathy, to be relevant, all the things you want to be, but without contributing to the fatigue. You don’t have to tell me what it’s like to survive a global pandemic (like I had to communicate the horrors of leaving a beloved pet behind) — we get it. Each and every one of us around the planet is living the same thing at the same time. What an amazing opportunity for a global marketer.
So, in communications planning moving forward, stop before you speak. What are you offering me? Online fitness? Yep, we all clearly see the need. Restaurant curbside pickup and contactless delivery? Sure, I appreciate that. Tell me about a really interesting menu item — something you’ve changed to make your dishes travel better (thank you Taco Bell for the deconstructed At Home Taco Bar; a hard taco supreme never really traveled well).
The same holds true on the B2B front: legal services, accounting, talk about rebuilding (or not rebuilding) post-2020, SaaS products? Great, let’s use this moment to talk about versatility, even remote access, but no need to tie it to quarantine.
Statistics over the last eight weeks will undoubtedly show an increase in open rates in e-mails with mention of COVID-19 or its many derivatives. But let’s flatten the curve and get back to communications that talk about business, about the future, and about the new normal… but please don’t call it the new normal. We get it. And more importantly, don’t hit us with fatigue before we have the opportunity to hear your marketing message. Don’t start with a negative. Create a more positive stimulus response. Let us hear you. We want to hear you. We need to hear you.