Connecting in Uncertain Times: Public Safety Marketing in the Time of COVID-19

The world is facing an unprecedented crisis that is affecting nearly everything we do, including how we connect as people. Lives and livelihoods are in the balance. These are difficult times for many, including the first responders we serve. Public safety, as a market, has been profoundly affected by COVID-19—even as they continue tirelessly do their best responding to this crisis. Given restrictions on travel and gathering and changing schedules, how do you remain connected as a public safety marketer?

Following are four tips for connecting with clients and prospects during these challenging times.

Care for Them

My colleague Greg Friese, editorial director at Lexipol, wrote a great article explaining why this is time for nationwide—even worldwide—service. We each have a role to play. As he states, it’s everyone’s first responsibility right now to take precautions to keep healthy. Let the overburdened healthcare and emergency response systems deal with those who truly need them.

Beyond this, companies are stepping up across the country to help their communities. Distilleries are shutting down tasting rooms and churning out hand sanitizer. Tech companies are donating masks to medical providers. If you can, consider donating supplies, food, money or time. Pick up the phone and ask what your customers and prospects need right now.

Also: Many companies marketing to first responders benefit from hiring retired, part-time or voluntary firefighters, law enforcement and EMS personnel. Providing these employees flexibility to return to service as needed is a huge help in trying times.

Develop “Virtual” Product Demonstrations

If you don’t have them already, now is a great time to create a library of detailed, useful videos that describe and explain the functionalities of your products or services. Again, this is about providing a helpful resource, not a sales pitch. If you are a manufacturer of, say, personal protective equipment, it would be good to have videos that highlight features and parameters, as well as proper donning and doffing of your PPE.

Many companies already have product videos on sites like YouTube and Vimeo. But now might be a time to do it better, realizing this might be the most direct and effective communication you will have with your customers or prospects for some time.

Embrace Remote Working

For many, working from home—with all the distraction that might entail—is a new routine. While most of your customers are adept at phone calls, texts and email, video conferencing is newer to many and is certainly worth exploring. Popular apps, such as Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangouts Meet and Skype, allow for more personal communications. They can be used for one-on-one calls with sales staff and customers, or they can in many instances be leveraged for meetings.

Even if your supply chain has been affected and your customers are hunkering down, you can probably take this time to improve search engine optimization

If you’re new to these services, it’s worth spending a few minutes learning and thinking about them. What are your primary goals? Staff meetings? Sales calls? And unlike the phone or email, appearances matter! You’ll want to set up your computer so your webcam captures an orderly, appropriate backdrop present yourself professionally. While there’s certainly leeway in these extreme times for a degree of familiarity and casualness—e.g., screaming toddlers barging in—you’ll want to follow best practices to the degree you can and share them with your staff.

And even if you are adept with video conferencing, don’t assume everyone else is. Whenever I’ve had a scheduled phone call arrive as a FaceTime call, I’ve felt a little unprepared. (Also note: FaceTime only works with Apple products.) So if you’re scheduling a Zoom meeting, for example, it’s good to also send an email asking if it’s okay and then explain briefly what’s needed and how it works. Your customer or prospect might prefer Skype or GoToMeeting, in which case I would defer to their software preference.

Working from home may be different, but it’s still work. Being effective and productive, at least for me, is a much-needed stress-reliever. The good news is that as more people have begun working from home and from offices spread across the globe in recent years, enterprise systems have been working to serve them. Now’s the time to leverage that power, if you haven’t already.

And there’s work to be done. Even if your supply chain has been affected and your customers are hunkering down, you can probably take this time to improve search engine optimization or dig deeper into your site analytics to see what your customers are after. Bottom line: Focus on core competencies and emerging from this in a stronger position.

Keep Informed

I know it’s tempting these days to stay glued to the Twitter feed or the television news. It’s also anxiety-inducing and probably not very helpful. On the other hand, tone-deaf marketing, ignorant of our new reality—especially to first responders, who are putting their lives on the line on the street—is bad. For example, I had a firefighter friend tell me about an email he got last week for a “corona discount” on sunglasses. He’s at a busy station that’s barely keeping on top of the call volume, working mandatory overtime and dealing with infected populations. This ad infuriated him, understandably.

But even less overt messages can appear off. If you are running visuals in your marketing efforts, try to avoid images of people gathering in groups or working out in a busy gym or doing things like shaking hands—at least for the time being.

And not every ad or email needs to reference COVID-19. In fact, Google is apparently suppressing ads that contain the terms “COVID-19” or “coronavirus.” Just keep in mind that any external communications at this time should reflect the context in which they will be received.

Going Forward

For the moment, times are changed and the old rules don’t currently apply. Our police, fire and EMS personnel are the frontline of our pandemic response. Many of us find ourselves isolated at home. Businesses are suffering. No more shaking hands at conferences and chasing down leads and sales quotas that are no longer reasonable.

But we—and the businesses we support—can’t afford to disappear right now. I keep hearing we’re all in this together. That’s always been the case, but COVID-19 has driven it home once again. Stay safe and reach out any time:

Crawford Coates

CRAWFORD COATES is the content marketing manager Lexipol. Prior to this role, he was publisher at Calibre Press, a publisher and trainer for law enforcement, and an editor at PennWell Public Safety, publisher of Law Officer, FireRescue and JEMS. He is a co-founder of Below 100 and author of the book Mindful Responder: The first responder's field guide to improved resilience, fulfillment, presence, & fitness--on and off the job. He holds a master's degree in public policy and administration.

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