Jeff Booher returns as a guest w advice on how to handle business disruptions. His insight includes the proper way to treat employees, and the available resources if your revenue has declined.
We also dive into some best practices for marketing during a crisis. We speak specifically about the COVID-19 pandemic and how your organization can continue to engage its audience with so much in flux.
Business and Marketing Advice During COVID-19
Liz Hey there, welcome back to Liz and Sandro’s Marketing Podcast. We’re the podcast that helps companies and marketing departments control their business, their brand and get the word out.
Liz We are back after taking a break for several months. Sandro and I have been super busy working on various client projects, but we felt like now would be a very important time to get back, come together and start recording again. It is mid-March as we’re recording this episode. And by the way, we are recording via Zoom to be safe. We wanted to jump in and share some ideas around COVID-19. Share some insight from our guest today. Jeff Booher is back with us. And we also want to share some insight for your marketing, your marketing department and just to help you get through this very crazy time.
Liz If you have any questions, we’d love to hear from you. You can reach out to us via email. You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. We’d love to hear from you. We’d love to hear how you’re doing and what questions you have as we face some kind of crazy times ahead. As I mentioned, we have a guest today. Jeff is with us. He’s been on the podcast before and we are thrilled to have him back.
Jeff Booher’s Street (Marketing) Cred
Liz Jeff has held leadership roles in the marketing industry for over 15 years at agencies and in the financial industry. He has recently lent his expertise to the rebranding and marketing efforts of the city where he resides. He is currently employed as a marketing and business consultant and a project manager. We are thrilled to have Jeff back. And you know what I have to say, Jeff has been the one kind of nudging us to really get back to our recording routine. So, Jeff, great to have you.
Jeff Thank you. I’ve missed the podcast as you both were away. I’m glad to hear that you’re both safe and healthy and in good spirits.
Liz We are. Thank you.
Sandro As are you and your family, I hope? Jeff?
Jeff So far so good.
Sandro So let’s start with Jeff. He came to us initially with this idea and we’re going to start with him and he’s going to give us some ideas on how businesses can handle this disruption.
COVID-19 Is a Business Disruption
Jeff Sure. So with COVID-19, it not only infects people & spreads that way, but it also infects businesses. And what COVID-19 is, it’s just another business disruption. And basically what that is, just real quickly, simply is your organization’s ability to deal with setbacks. So it could be something as minor as the power going out or something as major as a global pandemic. And, you know, we always hear that stat that 40 percent of American families can’t afford an unexpected $400 expense. And what we’re seeing, I think, is that same vulnerability in some of these small businesses. Where if you’re not having revenue or income or customers for a month, three months, six months, then, you know, does your business survive? You know, so it’s not only killing people and putting people at risk, it’s also killing businesses as well.
Jeff Partially why it’s killing businesses is they didn’t have a plan. So do you have a plan for business resiliency? Do you have a plan if a water main breaks? Do you have a plan if the roof blows off? And if you don’t have one and it’s not too late, you gotta make one. If you know, if it’s not too late for you or your business. A lot of companies will make a plan and stick it on the shelf just in case. And then, oh, okay we need it and blow the dust off of it and it’s 10 years old. And a lot of that information in that plan no longer applies. So you really need to not only have one but update it regularly.
Jeff And by the way, this business resiliency is something I learned in business school. So for those of you who think business school is a waste of money, probably not. Because that’s when you learn about crap like this. Risk management, business resiliency, stuff that can go wrong, you learn it in business school. So there are some resources you can go to for help. There in Ohio, our Governor…
Liz Hey Jeff.
Liz Can I jump in with a question?
Jeff Jump in whenever you want.
Permanent Business Closures Are Inevitable
Liz Have you heard any stats around perhaps how many businesses might just completely close as a result of this?
Jeff I mean, I think it’s gradual. Dominoes are falling. So what I’m hearing now through the news and through some resources is that anything that’s local, like your local used bookstore or local movie theaters or local kind of like, just like there’s only one location of that business, may not survive. Your town may not look the same after this virus calms down as it did before the epidemic took place. So I don’t have like a certain percentage or anything like that, but it will look different. There will be permanent closures due to this.
Liz Yeah, I haven’t heard any stats either. I was just wondering if you had so, good.
Jeff And I think every -.
Liz Just quickly to build on what you’re saying, I’m part of a national PR network and we had a check-in call yesterday. And it was great just to kind of share what’s going on around the country because we’re 50 PR professionals in all of the top 50 markets around the country, basically. So great to hear what they were all saying, kind of how things are unfolding in different parts of the country. And what you just said was absolutely echoed on that call that even large companies with plans in place didn’t have anything for this type of scenario. They just had never thought about it. So I think what you said was great advice.
Resources Are Available to SMBs
Jeff Yeah. So there are some resources, though, for help. Where we are in Ohio, the Governor has set up an email to help and we can list all these in the show notes. There are some disaster loans. If your governor in your state declares a state of emergency or a disaster area, there are certain loans that you may be eligible for. There are some standard loans as well that are offered in times of crisis. It doesn’t have to be a pandemic. It could be just kind of local to your business. If you have a business credit card I’m sure that there are going to be some programs that they offer. Banks are offering certain forbearance programs.
Jeff Your vendors – call in a favor. That person that, you know, if you’re a restaurant that brings you your produce, maybe they’ll let you float a little bit. I’m sure they don’t want to lose you as a customer if they can play the long game and help you out. And your landlord? Yes, your landlord. That person you may think just wants your money and doesn’t care about you. They actually might. And there might be some peer pressure for landlords to let you skate on the rent for a certain amount of time.
Close As A Last Resort
Jeff So those are some possible resources, there are for sure others. It’s not limited to those specific things that I mentioned. But like before you close and before you kind of just throw your hands up and give up, do everything that you can to keep your business going, do everything that you can to see what your options are and only close as a last resort is my advice. So there’s also, as a business owner, you know, you really have to kind of back up and think about what is your obligation to your employees. And this is something I feel extremely strong about. You need to do everything in your power to take care of your employees.
Jeff Those are the people that you hired to help you who probably are the main drivers of revenue. The main drivers of keeping your business successful when times are great. But then when times aren’t so great, what are you doing for them? And it is my opinion that you have an obligation to do whatever you can. I think that we’re going towards a post-capitalistic society here where it’s not just make as much money as you can. There’s your social responsibility to those around you. There’s a community responsibility that you have as a business owner. And now, of course, an environmental responsibility. But the first responsibility you have is to your employees. And if you are not closing, you can do more for your employees. Let me give you an example.
Bad Workplace Example – Coronavirus
Jeff My mother. Shout out, mom. She’s 63. And just as recently as yesterday, her boss was still having her come to work. And the reason why is because they’re not set up for remote work. So apparently no one has told her boss about Zoom and a freaking laptop and a VPN because that’s pretty much all you need to resume business. i’s that kind of mentality that really has your employees lose faith in you as a business owner and really wonder if you care about them at all. Or if they’re just cogs in a machine? You really need to do whatever you can for your employees. I worked for a person who once a summer would take us on his boat and then 30 days later told us he couldn’t afford health insurance for us. This is it. It’s got to stop.
Jeff Like employees, it’s not just work for the paycheck anymore. Employees demand more of a responsibility and they’re looking to you, business owner, person with the money, to help us out, you know, when we need help. And especially at a time like this, turning our backs on your employees, the word’s gonna get out. And you know, the employees are not going to be there when you need them when you survive this. So that’s just my little rant. That’s my opinion on that. So really, do whatever you can to stay afloat.
Jeff And hey, if your employees, if you’ve got a spare bedroom and you got one employee and they’re gonna get evicted. There you go. Have them crash on the couch. I’m serious. This is not a time to mess around with your employees and it’s not a time to do what’s convenient. You know, we really have to step up. We really have to do whatever we can to take care of each other. Rant over.
Work From Home!
Liz Jeff, I think that’s great advice. And going back to that phone call I had yesterday with my PR network, some of the wrap-up thoughts on that call were as PR professionals, we should be advising our clients to be incredibly proactive and cautious right now if anyone is sick. If anyone’s not feeling well, like send them home. Again, be very proactive about this, because the thought was once some of this dust settles, people will be looking to point fingers and you don’t want to, we’re very, unfortunately, we’re very litigious in this country and you don’t want to suddenly have a major lawsuit on your hands because you were requiring employees to come to work during some, or, I’m sorry, during a major state of emergency. So, yeah. Great, great advice there.
Jeff You know what, Liz? You know, I was coming to it from an altruistic point of view. But you know what? If you want to be a selfish *&%$ and just do it for your own self-interests, do it. I don’t care what the reason is to do it. Just do it. So, yes, you’re right. Whatever works.
Are People Looking for COVID-19 Guidance From Your SMB?
Liz Yeah. I will also share that I had a conversation with a business owner who is not a client. This person was a little miffed that they had to issue a statement to their company. And he was like, I don’t understand why people think I am, that I have any sort of authority to speak on this. And I’m thinking to myself, well, you’re the owner of your company. They’re looking to you for some sort of guidance and you’re pissed that you had to write a couple of paragraphs to ease everyone’s fears. Like I, it was baffling to me that they didn’t realize how far that would go. But, um..
Jeff Yeah. You know, I get that there’s like a line. I got an email from Urban Outfitters about their COVID response. So it’s like, so I bought a hoodie from you in like 2013 and now I need to know what your response is? Like, I’m good. But like, no, like yeah, if you’re the owner and you know everyone’s talking about it. You know they’re being asked about it from their family and the people they interact with. And you know they’re wondering about it. So, yeah, they have to know where you come out on it. Are you recommending that they take their temperature every day? Are you offering more PTO? What are you doing? What changes are you making? And if you’re not making any changes, they need to know that too.
Jeff So, yeah. It’s absolutely essential that everybody is transparent and everyone knows where everyone is at on this.
Liz Yeah, definitely. And I will say, yes, I have seen some emails come through and I’m like, oh I’m still on your email list. I completely forgot about you. But then at the same time, I am getting some emails from companies and I’m like, oh thank you. To your point, thank you for being transparent. I hope you survive this because once the dust settles and we get back to our normal life, I want to support your business. I want to get a meal from you or buy a hoodie, whatever it might be. So, yeah, again, just be open, transparent and be in consistent communication with all parties and employees. And I think we’ll get into customers here in a moment.
Continue to Frequent Local, Small Businesses
Sandro Yeah, and keep frequenting your local small businesses. I was gonna go to Chipotle for lunch yesterday, but instead went to Susy’s Soups and spent $15 there instead of the usual $8 at Chipotle. Just because. I got like, extra food to keep them going.
Liz Well, yeah, let’s jump into some of the marketing side of this because there’s a lot to chat about. Sandro, do you mind if I jump in?
Sandro Yeah, go for it, please.
It’s OK to Pause Marketing
Liz OK. So the first thing that I want to just to make this podcast a little evergreen, we always love evergreen content over here. I think in the, my advice in the immediate, let’s say, hours and days after a crisis, I think that might be the point where you do hit the pause button on your marketing. And this could be, this doesn’t necessarily have to be a pandemic. It could be an earthquake, a hurricane, flood. Again, in those immediate hours and days, you might not want to be promoting something that seems a little frivolous when people are grieving or kind of collecting their thoughts about a crisis. So I do want to point that out.
Liz Again, that is a good time to hit the pause button, regroup. Make sure you have the right individuals participating in your internal conversations about business strategy, marketing. I also advise that it’s great to have a third party voice, third party consultant or an agency sharing some insight because I think it’s very easy to be so close to what you do or so close to the situation that having someone to help you keep perspective is a really good idea.
Liz As maybe the days and weeks unfold in a typical crisis, let’s say things would return to normal. I know that in this particular scenario that we’re seeing, we’re just, who knows how this is going to quite unfold. But I do want to share some tips that I wrote down as we market during this crazy time that quite also will probably be turning into a bit of a recession of some kind. Again, I’m not an economist, so I can’t speak to how this is going to unfold. So I want to share some thoughts there.
Avoid Exploiting Crisis
Liz My first piece of advice is please do not exploit the situation. I am not a big fan of extreme, fear-based marketing tactics. I do think fear, a little bit of healthy fear in your marketing is OK, but particularly during this time when tensions and emotions are really high, don’t take advantage of the Coronavirus or the COVID-19 situation. That’s really shortsighted. Now is definitely the time to be very mindful of the message you’re getting out there.
Liz The biggest thing that we want to stress right now is to continue marketing, do not stop. If you turn off your marketing now, I think you’re going to find that it’s extremely difficult to rebuild momentum around your marketing. There are studies that go as far back as the 1920s that indicate advantages of, at a minimum, maintaining your marketing budget during a time like this. You know, a potentially weak economy. Again, don’t stop. Keep communicating. I also think that with so many people at home, in quarantine, maybe getting a little stir crazy, I think they’re going to be very anxious for content. They’re going to be checking phones, checking emails, looking for things to do. And I think if you can provide some information of value, that’s going to be fantastic.
What Are Competitors Doing?
Liz You might also find that the relative noise level in your industry drops a little bit because who knows what your competitors are thinking. They might be making the mistake of cutting their budget, cutting their marketing. And that could be a great opportunity for you. This could be a great time to project some stability and strength.
Sandro Yeah, I think, there’s a chain of movie theaters that are a client and they’re all shuttered here in Ohio and in Pennsylvania. And one of the things we’re continuing to do is that each of those movie theaters is part of a neighborhood, part of a suburb. And we’re still amplifying, re-tweeting neighborhood associations, people in the neighborhood who are sharing information. Like Jeff said about small business loans, about, there’s a restaurant in my neighborhood called Banter, and they’ve got so many potatoes because they are a poutine place. The other day they just opened up the doors and just started giving out boxes and boxes of French fries and potatoes and things. Because they’re going to A) go bad, and B) they said they were covered by insurance for food spoilage, so what else to do?
Sandro So we were amplifying that as they are part of our neighborhood for one of our movie theaters. So I think, even if there is nothing that you are currently doing as a business, if you’re shut down or if there is not much you can promote, you can help amplify all the good things happening or some of the necessary things happening in your neighborhood, in your area, in your town. That’s a good way to keep the lights on and let people know you’re still there. You’re helping. You’re a part of the conversation, you’re part of the neighborhood.
Liz Yeah. Yeah, I love that. And I think we’ll get into some creative marketing ideas as we go. Absolutely. The other note that I wrote down or the other point that I wanted to make was to as difficult as it is, try to think long term. I know that there are so many unknowns right now. I mean, look, this situation, it seems like it’s unfolding and changing by the hour. So again, I know that thinking long term is really hard, but I would recommend avoiding short term tactics that could damage your brand.
Liz So let me give you an example. Maybe you think, alright, well, maybe the solution is I just, you know, slash my pricing and start offering things at a steep discount. But as I look back to the last recession, the Great Recession, and I think about some brands that took that approach, in my opinion, they really damaged their brand. J.Crew and Banana Republic come to mind. I mean, I think they conditioned us as consumers to always wait for the sale, look for the coupon, and they’re really struggling to sell anything at full price at this point.
Liz I also have a lot of higher-end service-based business clients that we have already, even before this spoken at length about how they don’t like to discount services. They feel like it cheapens their brand. Again, resist the urge to do that now because again, I think that could cause some long term damage. And I know that these next several months are going to be difficult. Again, check out some of the links we’ll include from Jeff’s comments about how you can do what you can to stay afloat right now because this will pass eventually. And again, I’m an economist, so I don’t know how long this is going to unfold. But do what you can to stay afloat, keep your brand strong, keep getting your message out there, because I think that’s going to help long term.
Liz My final thought and piece of advice is to really use this opportunity to get creative. Flex your creative muscles. Over the past week, I’ve seen some pretty fun stuff on Instagram. Brands that I’ve followed for years and I’m suddenly I’m like, oh, you’re doing… Like, that’s so fun. So use this time to implement a marketing initiative that maybe you’ve been thinking about doing for ages, but you just never had the time to do it.
Liz I’ve also heard from a number of different people that because they’re stuck at home and they obviously want to get out there on social media, they’re quite honestly, they’re picking up their phone, turning on video and just jumping in. Whereas in the past, they’ve always, they found a million excuses. Oh, well, my sound’s not perfect. My visuals aren’t gonna be great. You know, they were so focused on creating a high-quality video. And now that they’re stuck at home and they literally have no excuse, they’re jumping on, they’re providing some great content for their subscribers, and making sure they’re staying in front of them, which is really important right now.
Sandro Just keep in mind to be tactful and during this time have some taste to what you’re putting out there in terms of creativity. I’ve seen a few things go rogue.
Risqué vs Conservative?
Jeff So Sandro. Would you say that, would you err on the side of maybe a more, less risqué and conservative message? Or is that kind of what you’re saying by “tasteful?”
Sandro Yes. You don’t want to be making fun, obviously, of people or the Coronavirus. You don’t know how it’s affected people. But I think you can still be creative. I know there are people doing dance moves or teaching music lessons through video on Instagram or teaching people how to plant seeds in their home. Create home gardens. You know if there’s something, there’s a hobby you have that, you know, you can share, that’s pretty awesome to share, you can teach people. Why not do it? You know, it may not be what your business does, but it’s still something people might be, could be interesting.
Jeff Yeah, I’ve seen chefs doing cooking lessons. And, you know, maybe if you’re a tailor providing like, how to sew on a button. Some how-to stuff. You know, just something to connect with your audience to, you know, have while you’re at home. While you’re kind of hunkering down. Teach them a skill, have them, share your expertise with your online community.
Sandro Start a podcast. It’s not that hard.
Liz It’s really not.
Sandro Yeah. And Zoom, we’re going to see how this audio sounds, but you can do it via Zoom. You don’t have to be in the same room.
Read the Room
Liz Yeah, definitely. Thankfully, I haven’t seen too many missteps from brands or companies. I think the biggest missteps I’ve seen so far are from celebrities and I’m not even…
Jeff And government. I’m sorry.
Liz Well, yes. Perhaps the government as well. That’s a topic for another episode for sure. Sandro. Any other marketing thoughts before we wrap up?
Sandro I think you just gotta keep marketing as you said. Make it tasteful and don’t ignore the audience you’ve built up. They’re there. They probably won’t mind hearing from you. But you know, obviously, don’t be selling. Overselling. Have your pulse on what’s going on. Read the room. People are mainly talking about what’s going on as they’re quarantined.
Sandro So don’t be trying to sell extra more jeans or whatever you’re selling as often or as much. Just let them know the lights are on. You’re there. Respond promptly to comments. We’re getting a lot of Facebook DMs asking questions about menu items, about movies, about refunds. You know, be a little more lenient with your refunds if you can, you know, or extend the time. We have some Groupons and we’re extending Groupons another six to eight months if they’re about to expire. Err on the side of the customer and keep marketing.
Liz I’m curious if you guys have any predictions about which businesses or industries again, on the smaller side. I’m not talking about, you know, the ventilator companies and people making Purell and medical masks right now. But on the small business side do you have any predictions about what types of businesses might do really well during this?
Jeff Personal trainers are doing virtual training. I think that’s really cost-effective for them & I’m getting antsy in my house. I’ve been in my house, you know, maybe a week. So, you know, people are kind of looking for that kind of virtual. And it’s, you know, it’s more community. So, you know, they can talk to someone else. So I think if you can, any business that can perform their service virtually and they’re good at it, I think those businesses can do really well. They can probably expand the number of clients and customers that they have and grow their business. Because I think people are gonna be seeking that kind of thing out.
Sandro Yeah, Peloton stock is going through the roof, because at home, working out. As is Zoom, obviously.
Liz Yes. Well, good. That kind of wraps it up for today. As we were chatting, I jotted down some other notes. I think this is a topic that we’ll continue to revisit as this unfolds. Sandro and I really haven’t spoken too much about what our publishing schedule is going to look like over the next couple of months. I do know that we have a couple of episodes backlogged that we truthfully still need to edit and get published. So I think you’ll be hearing from us hopefully a couple of times a month over the next several months. We definitely want to be here. We want to share some good advice and cheer you through this because I think we need to, we need to stick together and help each other as much as we can.
Sandro I’m looking forward to it. And maybe we’ll have Jeff back.
Jeff I’ll have to check my schedule. No, I’m kidding. I’ll be back whenever you guys want.
Sandro You’re the best. Thank you for being here, Jeff. We appreciate it very much.
Liz Yes, thanks, Jeff. Well, that wraps it up for today. Thank you so much for joining us. You can find us on iTunes, Google Podcast and Spotify. If you have a couple of minutes, we would love for you to show us some love on iTunes and leave us a review. If you have any questions or want to share your story, you can reach out to us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. We’d love to hear from you and we’ll definitely give you a shout out on the show. So thanks so much. And we’ll see you next time.