The CMO’s Guide To Healthy Working During A Pandemic

Here are some antiviral tips for CMOs that could make a quarantine situation produce some healthy results. (As I sit here gazing out at emptying streets in San Francisco, all my tech clients have notified me they’re going remote for the next two weeks.) 

So here we are: Pandemic panic has certainly set in and not without reason; we’re facing a highly contagious virus to which none of us are immune. We’re all in preparation mode, but no one knows exactly what we’re preparing for (quarantine? social isolation? the actual end of days?) or when “it” will start. 

If you’re like me, you have some Hollywood-inspired visions of a post-apocalyptic world flashing through your mind—empty streets, tumbleweeds, boarded-up storefronts, burned-out cars accompanied by piles of smoldering this and that. In this scene, you peer cautiously out the front door, bathrobed and barefoot, eating soup right out of a can, wondering if it’s safe to go outside (forgetting for a second that there is not actually a pack of zombies or a tornado made out of sharks lurking around the corner). 

Most of us will, thankfully, not suffer from the effects of the virus itself, but the disruption to our daily lives has started and will only get more intense. Many people have already been told not to show up to the office, kids will likely be sent home from school for weeks at a time and supermarkets are apparently out of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and water (I don’t understand this last one, it’s not a storm, tap water will still be running). 

As a marketer, it’s easy to think that this is a time when your brand should take a back seat to current events and you should just curl up in a ball under the desk in your home office and wait for the non-storm to blow over. Absolutely not. I whole-hog disagree. This is the time to be brave and think creatively. I’ve worked straight through five hurricanes, the California fires, SARS, Mad Cow and 9/11. Sure, when these disruptive events occur, the rhythm of our days changes for a while, but our work doesn’t stop, nor should it. 

History shows us that brands that lean into economic downturns prosper in the long run; a college student could parrot that. So, this is the time to stand tall and dial it up in the face of adversity (or whatever it was that Winston Churchill said). Here is my advice: 

Get Your Team on Slack 

I’m about to tell you to keep up all of your marketing efforts and maybe even add some, but you can’t do that unless your team can function for weeks without being in the same room. I have a smaller, leaner front office but manage 46 remote employees and millions of dollars in media and production largely through an app on my phone. If your office has its own chat system that employees are already using, that’s fantastic. If not, get one up and running quickly. Slack is great for keeping dispersed teams functioning—it’s like group text for work, but you can also send large files and easily organize work partiers. Make sure your Zoom account is all set for conference calls with and without video as well. 

Keep Your Marketing Plans (or Ramp Up)

Not to be too blunt, but we marketers will likely have a captive audience in the coming days. Digital media consumption will be high and social media even higher as people fight the boredom and disconnection that comes with staying at home most—if not all—of the time. Keep your digital ads coming and maybe even ramp up your efforts for a few weeks—the audience will be there and will want something to focus on other than the current situation. 

Have Fun on Social Media

Once you get that Slack channel going, get your marketing and creative team ready to have some fun in a challenging time. We are not recommending making light of the current health crisis—gallows humor is not a healthy place for most brands, especially legacy ones, to be. Still, there are some things about our anxiety-ridden state that could make for enjoyable social media posts (especially if you run a brand known to be younger, hipper and irreverent in the first place). The pathos of staying home with kids for weeks on end while you try to accomplish anything for work is going to be ripe for comedy, for example. I predict a meme-fest (Dolly Parton-style). Put a team together who can monitor these kinds of trending hashtags and get in there. See if you can fit your brand into one. That alone could be good for tens of millions of practically free (and positive) impressions. Experiment and play together, and your brand team could even luck into establishing a trend. If that happens, your team will be legendary for being bold in troubled times. People love that. 

Use the Time to Work on You

As crazy as it will be to be at home (especially for those of us with kids), when we cut out the commute, face-to-face meetings and unplanned conversations with coworkers, we might find a few extra minutes or hours in our workday. Use it wisely. Read those articles you have bookmarked. Finish the book you were reading (or even better, the one you always wanted to write). Research stuff you’ve always wondered about. Go ahead and go down the rabbit hole about some niche technology that fascinates you or pore over the scads of information out there about Generation Z. Get yourself a PhD in social media trends. Get snuggly future brand ambassadors by “DM-ing” with 100 influencers. And, don’t forget to take care of yourself—shower and get dressed every day (just like you would if you were going to your office), don’t skip meals or workouts and make sure to get outside for a little bit every day. It’s the same in-person, normal business day routine, just using your phone more. 

Work on Your Personal Brand

This is a super great time to work up some thought leadership pieces. If you have something to say about the current crisis, great, but it does not have to be timely in that way. While our consumers will be gobbling up digital media, our colleagues will have extra time in their day that they will fill with content. If they’re smart, they’ll use this time to read up on the industry (see above), and if you’re smart, you’ll give them something to read with your name on it. Think of something that you have a unique perspective on and write it up. You will demonstrate leadership and inspire others. Also, be disciplined as a writer. Set aside a designated time each day to focus on writing—it’s a well-known fact among novelists that your brain can only put out about three hours of writing a day, so think about commiting to a writing “power hour”— I picked up that little nugget from my very first boss, James Patterson (he was CCO of JWT before he became a best -selling novelist). Jim wrote himself to the top by spending every morning from 6-9 a.m., emptying his frontal cortex, before work. 

This is not the end of days. There are no zombies. No sharknados. No piles of smoldering rubble. We will not need to go full-on “Survivor” contestant or “Pioneer Woman.” We will change our habits for a couple of weeks or a couple of months, but eventually, life will return to normal. Marketers, however, should not go quiet until then. Just the opposite: Stay strong, stay brave and use this opportunity to work on your brand and yourself. 

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Libby Brockhoff

Libby leads WBENC-certified woman-owned and Ad Age Agency of the Year, Odysseus Arms, in San Francisco. She also co-founded and named Mother, London, which achieved Campaign Agency of the Decade. Odysseus Arms is a modern version of the ad agency: independent, nimble, highly collaborative, leaning into social media and results-obsessed. The OA team seeks to build closer relationships between people and brands by harnessing the power of empathy. OA was named Ad Age National Agency of the Year in 2014. Contact: libby@o-arms.com Website: https://www.o-arms.com/