Business Continuity in B2B Marketing and PR: Are You Up to the Coronavirus Stress Test?


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The current business environment calls for scaling, not slashing, marketing and PR efforts. Aggressive new product developments and marketing campaigns planned for Q2 have gone up in coronavirus smoke, while business priorities have shifted and some B2B organizations may be running on reduced hours or staff numbers. It’s not “business as usual”, it’s “business continuity” which needs to be the name of the game from a PR and marketing perspective.

Marketing departments and agencies alike are all facing an unprecedented period for the next few months, and not through our own business failures. It’s time to look beyond ‘business as usual’ and focus on ‘business continuity’ in the wake of these extreme market pressures.

There’s a saying that “easy decisions are easy to make” — and in this context the easy decision is to batten down the hatches, ceasing marketing effort and spend for the next three months. However, often it is the difficult and bravest decisions which come with the biggest reward – and external communication is a necessity during the COVID-19 crisis. Here’s why.

Off-grid means out of mind

The length of typical B2B buying cycles is a lot longer than three months – we’re often talking six- or seven-figure software and hardware investment at an enterprise scale which could take over a year to finalize. While almost certainly there will be a drop in B2B sales during the next quarter there could be an opportunity to keep a percentage of these and to capture new prospects who haven’t started their buying journey yet.

The current market climate means businesses across a multitude of industries are having to scale like never before. That could mean scaling down if you’re in the transport sector but scaling up if you’re in the healthcare sector. It’s highly likely some of these organizations will be hindered by their existing infrastructure and suppliers – rest assured few of these implementations will have been stress tested like this before.

If you’re off the marketing and PR radar during this period how will these potential customers find you when business settles back down to normal? It doesn’t mean continuing at your normal marketing rate but keeping a skeleton presence will be essential to getting out ahead of the competition when the market recovers.

Pick your most valuable content

Now is the time to consult your asset library to organize your content creation priorities. Do you have content on file around topics such as remote working, supply chain or digitizing operations? With a little bit of reworking, this could go a long way in the current climate.

On the flip side, you may identify some gaps in your content repository. For example, you may serve one particular market segment which is booming in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. These are the prospects who will be hyper-receptive to your message. If you have a shortfall of content to serve that market, then it’s time to get drafting. Remember, you only need a single key sales message to package that up into a full content stack – from white papers into bylined articles, blogs and social media posts.

Stretching the brand goes a long way

Operationally you might be responding to the change in market demand – we’ve already seen several high-profile examples of ‘brand stretch’ hitting the media from the multimillion consortium of global companies including Formula 1 and aerospace companies to floor vacuum specialist Dyson turning to produce ventilators. But we also see many small companies that are fleet of foot, print and manufacturing facilities ready to come up to the plate.

In the UK we have seen Verdant Spirits, based in Dundee’s west end, which hopes to produce 400 liters of the sanitizer gel, starting as I write, while one 3D printing specialist in Peterborough has fast-tracked 3D printed valves for respirators. These are great timely examples and case studies, which need to be expedited into content and shared via owned and earned media channels.

You don’t need to go all the way, you just need to look at whether you can provide solutions to some of the key pain points being experienced by your customers right now. Do you have AI solutions to help learn from the fluctuating demand for consumer products? Can you offer remote access to your solutions to support the growing number of workers required to operate from home? It’s not just in healthcare where opportunities lie.

If you’ve got neither of these then you still needn’t fear. A steady stream of high-level company developments and thought leadership content can fill your company blog, social channels, and even the media. It’s all about keeping the lights on and letting your prospects and current customer base know you’re still alive and kicking.

The media doesn’t sleep – so why should you?

Once you’ve got your messaging and content packaged and out on your company channels it’s time to face the media. We’ve heard some assertions that publications will shut down during this period, struggling through lack of advertising revenue. But our experience has been that journalists have very quickly made the jump to working remotely, shifting their editorial schedules slightly to allow for COVID-19 content.

Many were already operating remotely and now, more than ever, they will look for easily accessible sources of contributed content. They’ve lost the opportunity to attend industry events and conduct face-to-face interviews and any company battening down the hatches has stopped contributing news and copy.

For those marketing departments which have downed tools, the impact will become increasingly noticeable now and into the future. Leads go cold, feature opportunities tail off and requests for comment dry up – meaning a business previously seen as a ‘go to’ source for insights, case studies, and industry comments rapidly fades into history.

Journalists live and die by their contacts, so if you make sure content is timely and relevant for their publication and audience, now is the time you’ll be of incredible value to them.

It’s possible to strike a balance between strapped resources and keeping a market presence with a skeleton level of media activity. This is something we’ve put in place with a number of our clients during what is a very difficult time for all of us.

Keeping up appearances

Most agencies will be feeling the pinch at the moment – and so will their clients. Agencies and clients alike are in this together. At IBA International we have designed a ‘skeleton service’ to help B2B organizations maintain momentum with coverage and positive brand messaging when faced with resource and time constraints.

This service allows us to deploy the full weight of our resources to ensure clients are not left without an external presence. Together, we’ve helped maintain a continuous presence on social media, assisted with digital alternatives to canceled or postponed events and ensured media engagement and coverage does not falter.

#BusinessContinuity is the name of the game

Now is the time for B2B to seize the initiative at a difficult time, taking confident and sensible strides forward in a time of stagnation will establish them as an industry frontrunner — exactly the type of brand perception which sets them apart for customers and potential prospects.

With the coronavirus crisis far from over there needs to be some out-of-the-box thinking from marketing professionals. Business continuity should be the aim to ensure their B2B organization hits the ground running when we come out the other side of all of this.

Jamie Kightley
Jamie Kightley is Head of Client Services at IBA International, a B2B PR agency serving global technology clients. Jamie has over 5 years experience in the PR industry and is responsible for designing, planning and implementing social media and public relations strategy for the company’s business-to-business clients, spanning North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific.


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