Pause or Pivot? 4 Guidelines for Marketing During a Crisis

Brands Should Gauge the Significance of Every Large-Scale Event

A few months ago, I was in a client meeting discussing the global issues of the week when my client said, half-jokingly, “Well, you do know the world is spinning faster, right?” I did not believe him, but a quick Google search validated his assertion. It does feel like it is true, given what is coming at us on any given day and the issues we are facing collectively as a society.  

With the litany of global issues that cross the newswire instantaneously these days thanks to social media, it is sometimes hard to keep a handle on it all. There are so many crises, it is hard to know what to do as a marketer. You have goals that you are trying to deliver against, and global crisis wasn’t something you necessarily factored into the timeline.    

As crisis communication advisors, we frequently advise clients on when to speak up in light of current events (you can read our guidance here – When to Speak Up), but often times we are asked “when should we stand down?” Many feel like they should “pause” their marketing efforts during a large-scale news event, but the definition of “large-scale” is constantly changing. The significance of any issue depends on what else is happening at the same time, who the audience is, what matters to your customers and so many more factors.  

So, how do you know when to pause? Here are some simple guidelines you can use. 

How to Know When to Pause Your Marketing Efforts

  1. If in doubt, shut it down. I like to say, “If it is not a definite yes, it is a definite no.” In the early stages, listen to your gut – it’s usually right. Unless your marketing effort is incredibly time-sensitive, a brief pause won’t set you back. While hitting pause may delay your efforts a day or a week, moving forward when the world isn’t ready can cause indefinite delays in the long run.
    Use these questions to help determine if you have a place in the conversation or if you need to pause:

    1. Is the event of global consequence? Does it have national or local impact on your communities?  
    2. Does your core customer care deeply about the event, issue or its impact?
    3. Does your mission, vision, values statement or corporate purpose relate to the event or issue?
    4. Is your post or news insensitive in tone to the event or issue?
    5. Have you commented on the event or issue before? Would your stakeholders expect you to respond? 
  2.  Assess all channels and pause pre-scheduled content. If the decision to pause has been made, make sure that you follow through. Work holistically across your entire team to make sure it is not just your social channels you are evaluating for a pause, but also any pre-scheduled advertising (print, TV, radio), email marketing campaigns, events or PR pitches. Determine if your organization might appear tone deaf if these posts, placements or outreach efforts proceed as planned.  
  3. Can you pivot? It is not always necessary to stay silent when an issue strikes if you have a reason to be part of the conversation. Can your efforts pivot to provide support or aid? Can your brand be of comfort at this time? Use the quiet time on your channels to get together with your team to see if you can help the situation. Be certain, though, that you’re taking action instead of just offering words of encouragement. If words are all you have to give, then silence may be the best approach. 
  4. Before resuming, take a pulse check. We generally advise waiting at least 48-72 hours after a large-scale event has occurred to resume posting (or pitching), and we always take a pulse check first. Do a scan on what news outlets are covering, what your competitors are doing, and what the general tone is about the event online before getting back into the conversation. 

Not every large-scale event requires you to pause your marketing campaigns, but every significant event should prompt analysis and consideration from your team. Bring the above four guidelines to the table as discussion points and you’ll be able to make a fast and responsible decision regarding your organization’s marketing efforts.  

Crisis Communication at Jackson Spalding

At Jackson Spalding, we encourage clients to be proactive and develop a crisis communication plan well before they need it. We’ll work with your team to evaluate events that may impact your customers, stakeholders and employees and recommend the extent to which you should pause or pivot your marketing efforts. 

For additional insight into when companies and leaders should speak up or stand down during a crisis, contact our Crisis Communications team.