Uncertain Times Call for Decisiveness with Certainty

No doubt, the coronavirus (among a dozen other national and global issues) is impacting business and calling into question the role of marketing at a time of great uncertainty.

As trade shows, conferences and events are being canceled… supply chains and logistics are being interrupted… workforces are being directed to work remotely… and the stock market is reeling, the role of marketing is solidly under the microscope. The question every CMO is addressing – by choice or out of necessity – is whether they should cut, suspend, continue or increase budgets?

First and foremost, marketing needs a place at the table when decisions are being made. By our very training, experience and nature, marketing professionals are adept at evaluating challenges and finding solutions.

Dealing exclusively with the coronavirus situation, it is abundantly clear that while personal communication – whether one-to-one or en masse – is quickly being shut down, the opportunity to ramp up communication via digital channels has never been greater or more important.

Your customers and your customer’s customers are all looking for the same thing: someone to tell them what’s going on, what’s going to be happening and how this is all going to work out. Whether you are a local restaurant, a regional banker, a national service provider or a global manufacturer, you are or soon will be impacted. Your employees, your customers, your investors, your community… everyone is looking for words of leadership and encouragement.

And here is the good news: In truth, no one expects you – your brand, your organization, your executive leadership – to have all the answers, they just expect to hear from you. They want information, reassurance, guidance or to simply know you are out there doing something.

Humans, for all their frailties, are amazingly resilient. So too are smart businesses. Consider the Johnson & Johnson Tylenol Crisis of 1982. What looked to be the end of a great company turned out to be quite the opposite. Within two months, product was back on the shelf in new tamper-proof packages (a new innovation). Within a year, the company reclaimed its share of the analgesic market. Why? Because Johnson & Johnson kept talking and reassuring the public. It didn’t hide and it didn’t cut costs. In fact, it recalled tens of millions of bottles of product and offered free replacements (a new innovation). And it invested more than $100 million on the recall and relaunch.

Jim Collins, the author of “Built to Last” and “Good to Great” says that in troubled times a business needs enduring values, the best talent and an ability to ‘zoom out’ and see past the chaos in front of it. During an interview with Fortune Magazine in 2009, he was asked if people are panicking or are paralyzed about decisions as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. He offered the following response:

“Almost across the board, people are worried. As a rock climber, the one thing you learn is that those who panic, die on the mountain. You don’t just sit on the mountain. You either go up or go down, but don’t just sit and wait to get clobbered. If you go down and survive, you can come back another day. You have to ask the question, what can we do not just to survive but to turn this into a defining point in history?” 

Great companies see the end game, rally their troops and take action.

Marketing and communications can and should be a critical piece of that solution. We encourage all our clients, especially during this time of uncertainty, to ‘zoom out’ and see past the chaos that is in front of all of us. Use this opportunity to strengthen bonds with employees, customers, vendors and investors… to find short- and long-term solutions and perhaps even innovations that make a dent in the universe.

Jim Sweeney


Jim is a veteran of the agency industry and the founder of Sweeney. He is uncommonly passionate about the idea of creating and implementing insanely great marketing campaigns that achieve insanely great results. He pioneered the full-service, full-circle agency model and continues to forge new ideas in an ever-changing industry. And he is accessible to everyone about anything, seemingly all the time, serving as a mentor to all agency personnel and clients.