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Marketing During a National Tragedy


We just returned from a trip to Universal Studios in Orlando.  It was fun, but the time in Florida was overshadowed by our latest national tragedy.  Every newspaper front page was filled with faces of people in shock, scared and unbelievably sad.  Flags were at half mast.  News alerts kept popping up on my phone.

Now is the time to sit down with your team, your CEO or maybe just yourself and come up with a plan for the next tragedy.  This one caught me off guard and questioning the ‘right’ thing to do.  Here are some starting points for your meeting:

Social Media Guidelines
It’s terribly tone deaf to carry on as though nothing happened.  Establish a rule about the appropriate amount of time to wait until you resume posting.  Think about holidays and weekends too.

Don’t forget to remove posts made earlier in the day.  An Instagram story about the latest lipstick or coffee break feels ridiculous. Your brand doesn’t have to be part of the conversation, but it can’t ignore it either.

Currently Running Programs
While working for a news organization I had an editor who was worried about an ad that looked like a plane flying across the screen.  His fear was as soon as we launched the animation there would be a plane crash with the cartoon plane running over the story.   Our terrible insensitivity would offend much of our readership.

Double check all your current and upcoming programs.  A summer water gun fight between children or a video game reenactment may take a unintended new meaning.  Sponsored Facebook posts will be at best strange in a feed full of news stories.

Personal Messaging
Discuss expectations for visible people in your company.  If you’re the leader or your CEO is well known this could be a very personal question.  It’s a thin PR line between commenting on the story and becoming part of the story.

Grace Bonney, founder of Design*Sponge often comments as the organization.  Her recent post felt sincere and mirrored many of my own feelings.


Local Impact
What if a tragedy happens in your state or town?  Here in Charleston we had a mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015.  Nine victims lost their lives during a bible study.  The community responded with a Bridge to Peace Unity Chain across the Ravenel Bridge.


Think about how your response would differ if you had a natural disaster hit close to home.  As you saw on the Super Bowl, Budweiser obviously has a plan in place.  Your company can too.

I did a gut check on what my own protocol will be here on The Power Lunch.  Staying silent isn’t my nature.  Living in a deep red state I can confidently say although many of us have different views, no one wants to lose a child to a school shooting.  Moving forward I’ll be posting some of the ways I’m supporting common sense gun laws.  I’d love to hear what you’re doing as well.

Arm-in-Arm: Created after our own local tragedy, I’m a member of this organization.  Their focus is enforcing background checks on all gun purchases.  They also keep us up to date on local legislation and how to reach out to our elected officials.

Mothers Against Guns:  We don’t have a local Charleston chapter but many of my out of state friends belong to this group.  They support the 2nd Amendment along with common sense gun laws.

Everytown:  Something easy you can do is follow Everytown on Instagram.  Their focus is to end gun violence as well as the influence of the gun lobby in our government.


Going through Universal Studios park security my daughter Maribelle put her newly acquired Whomping Willow Wand in the plastic bin along with my bag.  As she walked through the metal detector I looked in the bin and then up at the security guard in surprise.  He met my gaze shrugged and said, “Well, I guess it is a weapon,” and we both smiled with relief.

Wishing you many more smiles of relief with those closest to you.  Back to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.

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