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Is Marketing Services During a Crisis “Ambulance Chasing?”

The response to COVID-19 has felt alien to a certain extent. Hospitals assembling tents. Walmart and CVS creating pop-up testing drive-throughs. Grocery stores scrambling to keep basic necessities on the shelves. Graphs of various “peak virus” scenarios having wildly different implications. Unusual and unnerving photos during an unprecedented period.

COVID-19 has created a surplus for many services (e.g., air travel and hospitality), while creating excess demand for other services (e.g., healthcare). Which leads to the central question of this blog: “Should companies offering needed services at market rates hold back on marketing outreach for fear of being viewed as ambulance chasers?”

I’ll give you an example. This past week, I was consulting with a company that provides facility management services to a wide range of industries, including healthcare. Given the crisis, I suggested that it do proactive marketing outreach to clients and non-clients to deliver a quick and relevant message about the services they have available.

The CEO cautioned that this type of communication could be considered in poor taste. I countered that it was being helpful.

Helpful services aren’t tacky if you need them.

There are many service providers that target the healthcare industry, K-12 schools, senior housing, and daycares. Commercial cleaning companies, project management and assessment, temporary staffing companies, and more have valuable services that are likely in high demand due to the crisis.

Why are marketing campaigns to connect a service to an explicit, high-demand need inherently seen as tacky? It’s tackier to push services in the absence of expressed or obvious need.

For example, newly formed enterprises selling hand sanitizer on Amazon for $50 is not only tacky, it’s criminal price gouging. But a reputable, established companies offering relevant and helpful services during a time of great need? That’s important, and it’s constructive to helping others get through this pandemic.

If you can help, don’t shy away from outreach.

I suggest putting together an email blast that is professional, succinct, and follows this basic approach:

  • Start the narrative with the benefits your services provide.
  • Quickly showcase your knowledge of the buyer and his/her current situation.
  • Briefly describe the services and why your company is uniquely qualified to help.

And since many email blasts go into spam folders, marketing or sales should place a follow-up call and leave a brief message. But I would recommend only one round of outreach and follow-up. If COVID-19 has created a need, your company will get a response.

Don’t be hesitant about posting to social media. Lead with the benefit and offer a link to information about the service and company. If you feel your offering is a best kept secret during this difficult time, consider running a short-term digital advertising campaign. We don’t suggest spamming a cold list ever, so this is a way to cast a wider net in a short time span.

What if you feel like your service isn’t critical in the current environment?

If you’re unsure as to whether to run communications or not, ask yourself about your primary motivations. If you’re coming from a place of “giving” and being helpful, marketing is completely appropriate and absolutely needed.

It’s fine if your service isn’t particularly useful to the environment created by COVID-19. But you shouldn’t lose sight of marketing as a long-term investment. You could be planning now for hitting the pedal when your customer base feels confident again and wants to get back to normal. So consider investing time and effort into building a strong marketing infrastructure, setting your company up for strong campaigns, and refraining from direct outreach.

In that case, marketing doesn’t need to disappear. It simply needs to change course.

Download Guide for Marketing in Times of Crisis

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