Coronavirus Marketing
Opinion

Profiting From A Pandemic – Wheres The Line?

We’re currently living through a pandemic. The first one (pretty much) of my time, let alone the first one I’ve had to deal with when working in PR & marketing.

Times are scary, there’s absolutely no denying that. There’s very little good to come out of this whole debacle (perhaps except from the story I covered last week about AVFC and their act of selflessness). However, the show must go on. Pretty much every industry is adapting to work through this, the PR & marketing sector is no different.

But what happens when your jobs rely on the news?

In one sense, with all the conversation in the media centering around Coronavirus (COVID19), is it poor showing not to seize the opportunity to join in on this conversation (seeing as it’s pretty much the only conversation you can join in now) OR, is it tasteless and tacky to try and profit from a global tragedy?

Should Companies Be Marketing With Coronavirus?

Classic digital marketeer answer, it depends. 

Don’t worry though, I don’t plan on leaving things there. Let’s take a little look into where I personally would draw the line with marketing alongside Coronavirus. Where it’s right to do so, and where it really isn’t.

Reminder: this is totally subjective and absolutely everyone will have a different view on this, which I’ll prove further down.

When You Should Be Marketing With Coronavirus

Though I really oppose to the idea of anybody trying to capitalise on this virus, there are a few scenarios wherein it may be appropriate to market with it. I think the best way to summarise this is that if you or your brand can add genuine value to the situation, then it’s apt for you to be involved.

Expert Commentary Positioning

I used to have a healthcare client who would have been very, very well placed for expert commentary in the press alongside the Coronavirus pandemic. Not to market their brand, but to provide relevant opinion where it is needed. It’s inappropriate to try and make a profit for your brand from this, but if you represent an expert who can add genuine merit to what’s being said in the media, then I don’t think there’s any harm in a little character building.

Press Briefing & Official Announcements

Though when I planned to sit down and write this blog post I did have my marketing brain on, and when I asked whether companies should be marketing with Coronavirus I did actually refer to those trying to link build, for example, or sell products. However, I think something worth mentioning is that it’s absolutely crucial at this stage to be releasing briefs to the press and pushing out official statements – if your industry is one to be impacted by COVID19, that is (which is most of them). If you’re an airline, for example, then outbound comms is absolutely vital – let your stakeholders know exactly what is going on. The same goes for most organisations. If your business looks to be affected by Coronavirus, let the people who matter know about it. Transparency should be considered first and foremost in any good communications strategy.  Burying your head in the sand isn’t appropriate at the moment.

Marketing Not *Directly* Related To Coronavirus

This one’s a bit of a grey area, to be honest. But I think that readjusting your strategy in light of what is happening, so long as you’re not trying to directly market the pandemic, is actually a wise idea. I really object to the idea of any Coronavirus-related PR stunts or campaigns, but being aware that there’s a rising interest in topics such as working from home and keeping a positive mental attitude, and then aligning your marketing strategy to this is fine. When you work in PR, marketing, advertising, SEO or pretty much any creative industry, it’s important to keep abreast with the news and to gear your strategies to mirror what’s trending right now. Coronavirus is the only thing being discussed in abundance right now, so while it’s unethical to try and profit from it, you do need to be aware of how your marketing strategy may need to shift slightly to support the current climate.

When You Shouldn’t Be Marketing With Coronavirus

There are few exceptions to the rule, my overarching opinion is that exploiting a crisis like this is downright wrong. The be-all and end-all is that while the media doesn’t help in exasperating the situation, people are dying and people are falling ill. It’s wrong to try and make a profit from that by almost any account.

It’s Not Relevant For You To Comment

Granted, these are far and few between, but there are some businesses that won’t really be affected by the Coronavirus outbreak at all. I think, in that case, keep schtum as commenting on a situation that doesn’t concern you may make it look as though you’re trying to geg in on circumstances that aren’t relevant just because that’s whats trending at the moment.

It’s A Tetchy Time

But leading on from that point, when I tweeted asking for everybody’s opinion earlier, I did get one reply which raised a super good point (I’ll link out to this thread below). It was this: is there a risk that “business as usual” comms becomes totally out of place in a world where suddenly nothing is normal anymore? Which is a really, really good question. One, truth be told, I don’t know the definitive answer to. Does anybody?! I think that the best thing to do at the moment is to keep your stakeholders informed and I think so long as your activities don’t crossover with what’s happening, there’s no harm in continuing with planned strategies so long as they appreciate the current climate. Not every journalist is going to be writing about Coronavirus (hard to believe, but it’s true). I’ve been continuing to pitch stories this week, but ones that cannot in any way be tied to the situation. At the end of the day, whilst all we’re hearing about is this pandemic — people need an escape from that too. I’m fortunate to work in a job where I’m pushing out really positive news (CSR related stuff), and I like to think that amongst the chaos, the content that we’re putting out there is a nice momentary distraction.

Your Brand Doesn’t Fit

Finally, and this is applicable to most brands right now, it’s not appropriate to market Coronavirus when it’s not at all relevant to your brand. As mentioned above, pertinent brands would mainly be those in the healthcare industry, including mental health services. If you know that your brand or an expert within it can offer genuine, valuable insight – then it may be right for you to comment. By the same token, anything that really challenges our day to day life is bound to cause ripples, if it’s applicable for your brand to fit into one of those ripples, then (by my account) it’s okay to acknowledge that. For instance, there is an influx of people working at home right now – I don’t see any harm in marketing around that. Likewise, something affecting a lot of people right now is the anxiety and the uncertainty around COVID19, if you can provide either a story or a service that helps people escape that for a short while, then I think that’s a good thing rather than a bad one.

What The Experts Had To Say

I mentioned above that my opinion is just one of many, and we’re all bound to have slightly different takes on this. Pandemics are not commonplace, this is the first one that I remember. We’re not accustomed to things like this happening and thus we’re all going to have different thoughts and opinions, and that’s okay.

Earlier today, I asked my followers for their thoughts: should brands be marketing using Coronavirus? As always, they really came through. I’ve received so many thoughts that I thought you’d get the most value from reading through the thread (as there’ve been SO many insightful replies in it that I just wouldn’t be able to do justice in this blog post). You can read everybody else’s thoughts, and perhaps even add your own, below…

With thanks to everyone who commented on my thread…

Lidia Infante, Buzz Carter, Alex Jones, Joel Stein, Beth Nunnington, Alex Hickson, Paul Sutton, Gemma Petman, Tasmin Lofthouse, Iain Ross, Kate Cashmore, Jimmy Lees.

5 thoughts on “Profiting From A Pandemic – Wheres The Line?”

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