As entrepreneurs, we are accustomed to acting swiftly and decisively in business. We gather data to make informed decisions as quickly as possible to execute plans and shift with markets. Business leaders are not often accused of being risk averse. However, there are times that call for more thoughtful and cautious action, particularly in time of a national or global crisis.

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 virus is having an obvious impact on businesses, economies and households. This is not a time to go silent and be absent from wider conversations, but it’s also not a time to advertise and sell as usual.

It’s never been more important to strike a proper balance in communication.  Jim Nail, an analyst at Forrester, said it well, “The first thing brands have to do is not think about today, but about how they want their brand to be perceived when the world starts to return to normal.  The last thing you want to do now is appear tone deaf or opportunistic or otherwise taking advantage of the situation in any way.”

Here are 5 tips to help you navigate business marketing and communication in a time of crisis.

Be Resilient

Being flexible allows you to adapt to situations as they arise and react accordingly. It also gives you a chance to show respect for those impacted by the crisis. For example, many businesses have paused marketing campaigns or extended payment deadlines out of sensitivity to the financial troubles that have impacted some of their customers.  These companies are responding to levels of uncertainty that are dominating the thinking of most at this time.  Families are concerned about paychecks, jobs and basic needs and services.  By shifting away from their normal communication to communicate a message of support and help, they are demonstrating care in the face of very unusual circumstances.

Re-evaluate Scheduled Marketing Activities

During times of tragedy, it’s crucial that you are mindful about any content already planned or scheduled to go out — email campaigns, social posts, blogs and advertising campaigns. If your brand content is too promotional in nature it can appear insensitive during a trying time.  Don’t stop sharing and contributing but shift the focus of your content to accommodate your audience and what they are experiencing at this time.  Make sure your interactions offer a tone of support, hope and resiliency.  Focus on how you can help your clientele through this challenge and be there for them when it passes. What product or service do you offer that makes life a little better for everyone in or after this crisis? We are all in uncharted waters.  Be human and compassionate.

Offer Support and Resources

As a business, you have more of a platform than you realize. During a crisis, it’s important to offer your support, condolences and resources. For instance, during the current COVID-19 epidemic, some restaurants are offering first responders free meals or discounts. Do you have something to offer the community? Distilleries are making sanitizer.  Retail stores are offering online options and curb-side pickup.  If you are a small, locally owned business, you may not be able to make large financial commitments, but you can still contribute in smaller ways and ensure that your communication celebrates working together, supporting those on the frontlines of healthcare and taking care of our neighbors. 

In your marketing communication, focus on how you can support your customers, what you do that can make life easier for them right now, and how you’ll be ready to go when they are ready to get back to normal activities.   

Stay Away from Newsjacking

What is newsjacking? It’s the practice of exploiting breaking news to advertise your product or services and it’ s a big no-no. Unless your business offers pertinent products or services that honestly benefit those impacted by the crisis, then it’s just poor taste.  Focusing on promoting for your own profit while others are facing uncertain challenges and fearful is opportunistic and selfish.  It’s a bad strategy and it’s a brand trust killer.  Just don’t do it.

Take Care of Your Team

We’ve talked a lot about how to talk to customers and the public, but internal business communication is equally important.  Be honest and transparent in communicating with your team.  In situations like this, circumstances are evolving and changing rapidly.  It’s bad practice and bad faith to add confusion to the mix.  Talk with your employees and all members of your business team regularly.  Tell them what you know and be honest about what you don’t know yet.  Let them know what you’re doing for them and their families.  Be as flexible as you can in helping them maintain work options safely.

While navigating a crisis as a business owner can be challenging in many ways that most don’t understand, handling it well can add to your value in the eyes of the communities you serve.  Use this not-business-as-usual time to establish more authentic connections with your community.  If done well, it will pay you back dividends of trust and respect that will help you recover financial losses after the crisis passes.  

Before the next economic, pandemic or natural disaster crisis comes down the pipeline, prepare your company and communications team by taking these additional steps:

  • Debrief with your team after this crisis for actionable intel. What were you ready for? Or unprepared? What worked? What didn’t?
  • Develop a clearly defined communications strategy and crisis plan.
  • Ensure you have oversight and control of your marketing resources (people, programs, technology) so you can easily make timely changes.
  • Be ready to be flexible and innovative. Practice adaptive thinking with your team during non-crisis times.


Cindy is the founding President at 17blue Digital Marketing. She's passionate about helping businesses reach their goals and impact their communities.