We have entered an unprecedented time with the recent coronavirus outbreak. There’s a lot of uncertainty and as a result, office closures, postponement or cancellations of meetings, events and just about everything else.

Law firms and other business organizations are trying to function in a volatile and rapidly changing environment. So how do you conduct business as usual during the COVID-19 crisis? And is it okay to market your firm and lawyers during this time?

My answer to this is yes, it is okay to market and that you should – but it should be done differently than before the virus.

If you are going to market your firm and your lawyers, showing support and empathy should be at the heart of everything you do. This is not the time to announce the relaunch of your web site, your latest rankings or a new brand.

Your guiding principle should be to show compassion and care to your employees, clients and the greater community and to educate, inform and help others through thought leadership and educational seminars. If these activities lead to enhanced branding and new business by demonstrating your position as an authority in a particular area, then that’s great – but firms that do heavy marketing during a global crisis can be seen as insensitive and out of touch.

It is important to remind your employees and clients that you care about them, you’re here to help them and that it is business as usual at your organization, even if most of your employees are working from home. Companies often struggle with getting this balance right.

In this article, I’ll discuss strategies for marketing your firm during the coronavirus – as well as any crisis – that may arise.

Give Back

As a marketer, the most important question you should ask yourself right now is “how can we support our clients and our profession during this time?” Consider donating to the Red Cross or another disaster relief organization that is supporting those afflicted with COVID-19 (note – there is an urgent need for blood donations due to the virus outbreak so setting up a blood drive at your firm would be a great thing to do). Consider offering your services to those in need is a good thing to do – and it’s good for PR too.

Creative Conferencing

Most major conferences and events scheduled for the next month or two are being cancelled or postponed. Check with the conference organizer before you head to the airport – one of the lawyers with whom I work unfortunately got the cancellation notice as he stepped off the plane after a cross-country flight. You can usually find this information online, by email or if you have the conference’s hashtag, by searching online.

Here’s how you can use a cancelled event as an opportunity to shine a light on your firm – hold a local event for those individuals who had intended to go to the conference (of course please do not attend if you feel ill in any way). It’s a great way to still do a bit of in-person networking.

It should go without saying, to please use common sense when greeting others during this virus outbreak – the elbow pump has become the new way of greeting someone. Try not to shake hands or hug, and wash your hands for 20 seconds (often).

If you are wary of holding an in-person function, consider organizing webinars – they’re a great way to keep your clients and prospects updated on various topics, cost next to nothing because there is no venue or food and beverage cost involved, and are easy to organize quickly. If you can offer CLE to participants, even better. Most firms have fancy webinar tools but all you really need is a Webex or Zoom account to do this.

Also, don’t just focus on the coronavirus outbreak with your thought leadership and webinars. It’s important to still write about other areas of the law – in some ways I think the more the media hyper focuses on this virus, the more the public panics. While we all need to be well informed of the current state of the coronavirus, it’s also important to maintain some semblance of normalcy – so write about an update in healthcare or intellectual property if it’s relevant.

Firm-Hosted Events

If you believe the risk is too great to hold an already scheduled event, communicate that as soon as possible (offer an alternate solution such as rescheduling the event or using technology to hold it as a webinar). If you believe that the risk is manageable and that your clients would welcome the event, keep it on the schedule. Remind your audience that you care about their wellbeing and their livelihoods more than anything, which is why you are taking these measures.

Use Topics and Keywords to Target

By using AI-driven tools and your content syndication services such as JD Supra, you can analyze online data to identify who is reading content about the coronavirus, and what type of content they are reading. You can then segment your target audience based on the topics or the keywords they are interested in to deliver more relevant (and very helpful) content to them.

Showcase Your Expertise Through Special Online Resources

One way to showcase your expertise and help others is by offering clients and the general public access to offer educational resources about the coronavirus. For example, Epstein Becker & Green launched a Coronavirus Resource Center on its web site that includes client alerts, webinars and other helpful resources for those navigating the crisis. Other firms with similar resources include Morrison & Forester, Baker McKenzie, McDermott Will & Emery and Crowell & Moring. Now this is smart and responsible marketing. My one caveat is that each of these firms named their Coronavirus sections the same way – the Coronavirus Resource Center. If you’re going to create one in the near future, I’d recommend choosing different nomenclature.

Write More Alerts

Law firms should use content to help them at times of need – and that includes a global virus where many people will need to work from home or stay home for a certain period of time.

Try to answer, “How the coronavirus will affect X” – I’m confident nearly every practice area and industry can find creative ways to answer this question. Think of the value you can provide to your clients and others who are looking for information online – many of your clients are waiting for you to inform them of how this crisis can affect certain areas of their business. They want to read alerts from you because they consider your advice important and useful. Also, it’s better to push out content than to wait and perfect it – good is often good enough when it comes to timely information like this. It’s important to strike the right balance between informing your client base about important developments in the law that may impact their businesses due to the coronavirus while not being boastful or too salesy.

Focus on Multichannel Communication 

To ensure you can reach your clients and other interested audiences (media, recruits, alumni just to name a few) and respond to their inquiries in a timely way, use multichannel communication, whether that is through your website, email or social media channels.

As the crisis continues, you may want to issue an email to clients ensuring them that it is business as usual even when employees are working remotely. This information can also be posted on the home page of your web site with a link to more information and key contacts. Also, make sure everyone within your organization knows what to say and to whom with consistent messaging, especially those on the front lines – such as your receptionists.

 Create Helpful and Clever Campaigns

Create campaigns with helpful messages such as reminding others to stay healthy and strong. One firm in New Orleans filmed a video of its chairman washing his hands under the CDC guidelines (for 20 seconds using soap and water). While it was only sent internally, I think it’s a clever way to bring leadership into the lives of its employees and to show concern for their wellbeing.

Avoid Boastful Marketing

This is not the time for social media posts or emails with the underlying message “Look how great we are and here’s what we’re doing!” I would avoid posting about awards or big successes your firm has achieved for the time being – especially anything from the hardest hit areas in Asia and Europe. This is the time to lay lower than usual on pure marketing messaging.

Turn off Pre-Scheduled Online Posts

During times of crisis, it’s important to be aware of any automated online activity that you’ve prescheduled such as automated email blasts, tweets, social media posts, blog posts etc. Distributing business-as-usual posts for your services during a time when serious news is unfolding, can appear disrespectful and insensitive. My advice is to cease all scheduled updates for the time being. They’re just not relevant.

Use Your Platform for Good

Any firm with an online presence both large or small has a great opportunity and platform to provide support – whether it is information, support or empathy, as well as resources. Perhaps it’s a link to donate to the Red Cross disaster efforts. Let others know both internally and externally in a humble way what you’re doing to help the situation so you can inspire and lead others to do the same. Also, think about whether there something your firm can contribute to those in need in order to help the community. For example, can you give out free or discounted hotel rooms or supplies, or perhaps pro bono legal services?

Build disaster relief into your corporate social responsibility strategy and make it an ongoing effort. If employees and clients are used to seeing your company doing good, you will raise your profile with them in the process.

Be Mindful of Impacted Clients

Determine if you have any clients who have been personally affected by the crisis. Then reach out to them offering help and support. The same goes for any referral sources and alumni. Loyalty in a time like this goes a long way—and it works both ways.

Don’t Newsjack

Newsjacking is the practice of capitalizing on breaking news to promote your services. This can backfire on firms, making them look like they are trying to profit from others’ misfortunes. Again, lay low and let helpful content be your primary marketing tool.

In Summary

Balancing your desire to do good, continue to operate and make money during a global health crisis can be tricky. Always err on the side of caution when it comes to how you communicate and market yourself during a crisis like this – sometimes it’s better to do nothing than to do something insensitive. Make sure to support your employees and clients, and adjust your marketing strategy as needed and you will maintain a strong brand now and into the future.