Our Southern Voices today comes from Lauren Reed, founder and CEO of Reed Public Relations. While this message will especially resonate with business owners and decision-makers, there is poignant advice here for us all.

My sweet Nashville.

Two weeks ago, we received news that entire areas of our city were devastated by a tornado. Immediately, we did what we do best here in Tennessee. We jumped into action, eager to help our displaced neighbors salvage what was left of their homes and businesses. For many of us, it was a stark yet beautiful reminder of how our city pulled together in 2010 after the
massive floods.

This is Nashville. We help each other. We take care of each other. We get through things together. We rebuild—TOGETHER.

That’s why this global pandemic has left many feeling helpless. Tornado relief efforts are still underway in our city. Our news feeds are covered with friends who have lost their homes and businesses next to the latest CDC guidelines, COVID-19 death tolls and quarantine recommendations.

And in a time when our city is used to providing encouragement and leaning on each other in the most literal way—through high fives, fist pumps and good old-fashioned hugs—we’re now encouraged to keep our physical distance.

That is why, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, your communications strategy is more important than ever. There are many unknowns at this time, and things continue to change daily. This is the time to be flexible, empathetic and creative with your communications. The strongest marketers and business owners know how to adjust to the rapidly-changing

This is an unprecedented scenario for which even the most diligent business owners could not prepare. Fear and confusion are rampant. Small business owners, particularly the retail, hospitality and restaurant industries, are faced with extremely tough choices right now.

I am a small business owner. I understand the desire to immediately freeze all expenses while the world attempts to make sense of what is going on around us. I am also a marketer.

It is the service I sell for a living, and it is even tempting for me to divert resources and hit pause on our marketing plan. That would be a mistake, and here’s why: How you act and appear to the world during this pandemic has the potential to impact your brand for years to come—good or bad. Especially now, your message matters. Consider these following points as you communicate with stakeholders:

  • Take the long view. Short-term decisions can have a huge impact on your long-term
    success. It is vital that your marketing messages reflect this. Release information that
    shows you as a resource, not a business looking to make a quick sale so you can
    keep your lights on. Overly opportunistic moves could fall flat and damage your
    company’s reputation for years to come. Do what is right and be mindful of how your decisions will be perceived and received.
  • Get digital. It’s time to be nimble and reallocate your resources. I’m not going to get on my soapbox about the importance of having an integrated marketing strategy. However, those who do not place all of their “marketing eggs” in one basket are certainly ahead of the game right now. If you typically drive sales by speaking at large conferences or trade shows that have since been rescheduled, look at other ways to connect with your audience. This will likely mean making more digital moves. We’re seeing increased digital ad spends and a heavier focus on things like podcasting and LinkedIn marketing with our clients right now.
  • Use your plan—and revisit it often. While the goals you set for 2020 may change dramatically, this is the time to use that plan you built as a foundation for working through “what if” scenarios. Don’t panic. Stay level-headed, disciplined and focused. Use your business continuity plan and crisis communications plan. As the plan shifts, communication will be the key to your success. Make sure the plan is easy to understand and flexible in responding to the unknown.

You have an opportunity to make a lasting impression by creatively communicating with grace, professionalism during this time. It’s going to feel hard. It probably already does, particularly because we have never experienced this exact situation before. It reminds me of a running cliché that any marathoner has heard. “The race begins at mile twenty.” Mile twenty is where it gets hard. Mile twenty is where you consider quitting. But mile twenty is also where you strengthen and rise to the challenge. What you do at mile twenty impacts your future success. Mile twenty is especially no joke when you have yet to be told the location of the finish line.

We’re at mile twenty, Nashville, and we’re going to take actions that will show our strength and character as a city for years to come. It’s what we do.

Lauren Reed, APR is the founder and CEO of Reed Public Relations, a communications and marketing agency based in Nashville, TN.