How to Change Your Marketing in a Crisis

How to Change Your Marketing in a Crisis

When faced with a crisis, what should you change in your marketing for the short, medium, and long term?

Many crises hit suddenly, alerting you immediately to a change. The world stops spinning for a moment, prompting you and your team to make quick adjustments that help keep your business with the sensitivity of the situation.

For example, in the immediate aftermath of terrorist attacks, most companies knew to halt or change certain sales and marketing activity until after their teams had better measure of the situation. Resulting changes could involve shifting behavior and messaging for a few days or weeks—and could even call for a broad-scale change or overhaul of a campaign, launch, or business initiative.

Other crises take more time to unfold, surprising us in a different way. The coronavirus or COVID-19 crisis provides one example of a slow-building catastrophe. Businesses see a possibility for an upheaval, yet they can operate in business-as-normal mode until, suddenly, they cannot.

Knowing when you’ve reached the tipping point with a slow-building crisis requires keeping close watch on the overall mood and tone among the general public, the business community, and your target audiences.

On the FrogDog end, the first glimmers of the COVID-19 crisis affecting our business operations manifested in a debate about whether to go forward with our planned company retreat—essentially, a change that would only affect our internal team and not our external marketing or positioning. However, within days, we had expanded our business response in reaction to the crisis: We halted our marketing campaigns and activities while we evaluated the overall business climate and determined where and how to adjust.

The FrogDog team undertook the same assessment process for our clients. We maintained some activity, rescheduled other activity, rebalanced some tactical mixes, and changed messaging in a few cases.

Which prompted us to realize: Our know-how in times like these helps our business and our clients immensely, and it stems from more than two decades in operation as a marketing company. How can we share this expertise with others trying to navigate these challenging times?

When your business faces a crisis, what should you do?

First: Race to Pause Your Marketing

The moment you detect a crisis, pause all planned communications.

At minimum, pause your social media and e-mail marketing campaigns. Quickly determine whether your pay-per-click and digital-advertising campaigns need to take a brief break while you gather your troops for the next step in this process.

Sounding tone-deaf and insensitive during a crisis can severely damage your brand and public goodwill for your company. We cannot emphasize this enough.

Then: Develop a Short-Term Program

Gather your key team—and even trusted advisors and peers—to think through what to do in the very short term.

In the case of a crisis, “short term” means “the next few days.” At the longest, short-term in a crisis could extend to a week. And no longer.

During a crisis, the entire tone of the public discourse and mindset will change by the day, if not by the hour. You and your team may need to revisit the short-term program you set each day or even twice a day.

Review what you have planned for the next week in detail:

  • What can continue to maintain a baseline of marketing activity in the near term? (No matter what’s happening, other than the momentary marketing pause to take to measure the climate, you should never go completely dark.)
  • What should stop for a week, after which you can reevaluate to see whether and how to bring it back into play? You can reschedule most marketing activity, if needed.
  • What do you need to cancel entirely? These items are highly time-sensitive and can’t easily be rescheduled. For example, during the COVID-19 crisis, any marketing related to mid-March holidays and events got scratched.
  • What should change in the near term when it comes to tone or messaging? Likely, whatever you decide to say in your marketing and sales activity in the week or two after a crisis needs to shift. How should it shift to ensure you don’t sound completely out of touch and cold?

Further, assess whether you need to address the crisis directly as a company. Do you need to quickly plan any sort of crisis-focused campaign?

Companies that might need to quickly develop a campaign to address the crisis include businesses that offer products and services directly linked to something related to the issue or directly affected by the issue. In these cases, you should at minimum plan a communication to your target audiences to communicate essential facts and address any immediate concerns.

Caveat: Crisis-focused campaigns can seem insensitive, even if a company has a direct link to the issue at hand. In these cases, tread carefully and lean heavily on trusted advisors, consultants, and your marketing partners to ensure you navigate the sensitive situation gracefully.

Plan to have someone keeping an eye on the short-term plan daily during the crisis period. This person should flag the larger team if the plan needs to change or should have the authority needed to make in-the-moment changes.

Next: Read the Waves

Each week after the first week during and immediately after the crisis period, set a new plan for your marketing based on your read of the overall public tone and climate. Expect to set a new weekly marketing program for at least the four weeks following a major crisis—and potentially longer, depending on how the situation unfolds.

Keep a close eye on public, business, and target-audience sentiment during this intense period. It can change in a flash.

For example, sending marketing e-mails related to the coronavirus crisis made sense for the first few heightened days. However, within a few days, the public sentiment related to these e-mails and social media posts turned from thankful for insights to frustrated with overwhelm and the sense that companies aimed to capitalize on a serious situation.

Public sentiment comes in waves during a crisis and can swing between panic, anger, frustration, resignation, indignation, grief—and beyond. Your weekly marketing assessments need to take these waves into account.

In Time: Set a New Longer-Term Plan

Every crisis is different. However, eventually, as with all things, the waves of public emotion will begin to calm. The situation will stabilize into a short-term tone and mindset among the public, business community, and your target audiences.

When this happens, you can set a new longer-term (albeit not yet truly long-term) marketing plan.

At minimum, a longer-term marketing plan during a crisis period will employ the same messaging and tactical mix as the company had planned before the crisis, though on a different timeline than planned. At maximum, the entire marketing plan needs an overhaul.

What level of adjustment your marketing plan needs in the short term depends on your company, your product or service offering, and how directly or indirectly what you do ties to the nature of the crisis.

When trying to assess where your business rests on the spectrum of changes in the longer term during a crisis period, think through the following questions:

  • Has the crisis made my planned messaging seem off-kilter in any way, even now that the initial waves of crisis emotion have subsided among my key audiences? If so, you may need to adjust to better address the new public sentiment and perspective.
  • Has the new world order changed the effectiveness of any of my marketing tactics? For example, during the coronavirus crisis, when everyone had instructions to stay home and events cancelled, many out-of-home tactics made no sense. Tactics like these may still not make sense, even several weeks after a crisis. Also, during the COVID-19 panic periods, many pay-per-click marketing tactics didn’t work well, either: People no longer searched on-line for products and services and information unrelated to the matters at hand. Based on what’s happening, should you adjust your near-term marketing mix?
  • Given the immediate-term disruption—and possible continuing disruption—to your marketing related to the crisis, do you need to increase your frequency to ensure you don’t lose market share or even more revenue to the crisis? If you need to increase frequency, how and where should you do so to garner the greatest effect?

Take heart: Eventually, the crisis and its aftermath will pass. The timeline will differ for every crisis, but it will pass.

The companies that keep a close eye on the tone and conversation among their key audiences and the general public will come out ahead.

Finally: Adjust to the New Normal

Once the crisis period passes—whether it lasts a week or two or several months—you can either go back to the campaign you’d planned before the crisis, either with a shifted timeline or the same timeline (just with a break or gap during the crisis period, when you employed a new short-term plan).

However, if the crisis has caused long-term changes in your market or in the world at large, you may need to completely rework your marketing messages, your marketing strategy, and your marketing plan.

You may even need to completely pivot your business strategy.

Use the time you have while your longer-term crisis plan is in play to assess and plan for the new normal.

As best you can, aim to predict what the new world order will look like—your close ear to the climate and conversation to develop weekly and monthly plans, as directed above, will help—and evaluate your overall business and marketing strategy. Use this time to come out stronger and better.

Companies that play the long game and that make smart strategic decisions during crisis periods come out ahead in the long term; the companies that panic and halt all activity—or, worse, keep trudging forward without shifting gears—do not.

The Crisis-Response Silver Lining

If you take these steps as outlined, you’ll have caught the crisis at the right time and gained the following advantages for your business:

  • You’ll have preserved or even bolstered your brand and the public’s goodwill toward your company.
  • You’ll have saved marketing resources—both energy and time—that you’d have otherwise wasted on fruitless activity.
  • You’ll have directed budgets to marketing activity that can generate results during a difficult time for all businesses.
  • You’ll have maintained your marketing leverage and traction during the crisis period.
  • You’ll have taken the assessment and adjustment periods to gain careful and measured insights on how to adjust and even pivot your company before too much time gets wasted.
  • You’ll come out far ahead of the competition on the other side of the upheaval.

Go ahead: Panic for a moment when a crisis hits—who doesn’t?

And then take heart: There’s a lot to do to keep your mind focused and sharp. Further, your business has a lot of opportunity ahead if you plan wisely.


There’s nothing worse than paralysis in the face of a crisis—yet it’s very normal.

If the FrogDog team can help you during this stressful time, we’d love to assist. Schedule a free consultation today.

Posted: Mar 21, 2020
Updated: Aug 10, 2020
Subscribe to our newsletter
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

We do not spam. And you can unsubscribe when you want.

Previous Post

How to Market to a Self-Isolated World

Next Post

Why You Should Outsource Your Ongoing Marketing to Professionals