Marketing in the Storm: How to Adjust Your Messaging During Disaster and Unrest

It’s not what’s happening to you, but how you respond. That’s true whether you are reacting personally or professionally to crisis.

And crises are abounding at this moment. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the lives of more than 100,000 Americans and now our country is experiencing civil unrest the likes of which we hadn’t seen in decades. Plus, hurricane season is underway and a tropical system appears to be heading to the Gulf Coast by the end of this coming weekend. If you are in Houston, like me, or any other hurricane-prone location, you know that can easily exacerbate business disruptions and add to people’s personal distress.

So, what to do? First, do what you need to do to collect and steady yourself. For example, as I type, I moved my office to a picnic table in a local park. If you also have been in working from home mode due to the pandemic, I highly recommend such a respite, especially if you might potentially be stuck inside again with a hurricane.

Now, back to messaging in mayhem. There is no playbook: your response must be a natural extension of your existing brand.

Take a look at your LinkedIn and Instagram feeds, for examples, to see how other businesses are responding. Some are taking risks. Southern Living, the lifestyle brand that usually focuses on home décor, recipes and beauty tips, posted a Black Lives Matter image to Instagram. It was simply white block lettering on a black background. The editors’ note spoke of unity for all Southerners. And, of course, a commenter said they are cancelling their subscription to the magazine.

Similarly, Texas Parks and Wildlife posted to Facebook about Black Birders Week, stating that nature belongs to all of us. One commenter aptly noted, “cue, angry white people.” Indeed, some other commenters suggested it is “racist” to focus on a particular race, even if the post by this public agency was intending to be welcoming and inclusive.

Perhaps your visceral reaction is you don’t want to alienate customers with a Black Lives Matter banner. You know your customers better than anyone else. On the other hand, you may want to reject negative reactions as an Houston Astros player just did. In response to his anti-KKK tweet, it was suggested he stick to baseball. Alex Bregman then said he is fine with losing white supremacist fans.

What if you are not feeling compelled to say something? Silence could be construed by customers and employees as tacit, blissful ignorance of the strife.

“We cannot remain silent,” Dentons, the global law firm, stated in a LinkedIn post. Better yet, be specific in how you are contributing to problem-solving. Bloomberg Philanthropies posted to LinkedIn about working with World Central Kitchen to serve more than 1 million meals to front-line workers dealing with the pandemic. Airlines are providing hygiene kits to flyers.

If you are a small business, you can also participate in a constructive, positive discourse by calling for unity. You can also generally state that, despite these trying times, your business is remaining steadfast in providing quality service to all valued customers.

But there is a central, abiding need to be kind. Be kind and professional to your customers; they need normal business to be a respite from the concerns engulfing our society.

Finally, listen. Be willing to listen to viewpoints that may differ from yours. You may learn something valuable you can incorporate into your business activities. You may also respectfully disagree. While remaining open for business, be open to new ideas. The world is changing rapidly and you may need to adjust on the fly. Just adjust thoughtfully and sincerely. Authenticity still matters.

And, yes, #blacklivesmatter.

Katharine Fraser, Adroit Narratives

Banner for brands being free to take sides.

Should Brands Take Sides in Political Battles?

We’ve reached a new political realm in which a shoe company and a spice peddler are pitting their brands against the President of the United States. How did this happen?

Brands have always sought to persuade consumers that a particular product or service will solve their problems. Think of the “wring around the collar” commercials, brought to you by Wisk detergent.

In the social media age, brands seek to find their tribes and market directly to this seemingly self-selecting target market. Still, the members of this tribe may not have known to subscribe to a point of view or product until it was brought to their attention. The brand spoke to them, in their language, and voila, they are on board, liking, following and captured.

The language of social media advertising is conversational and casual, and that tenor and tone has proven so effective, the style has spread into conventional television ads.

Now, brands are taking direct stances. Take for example, Penzeys Spices, which is calling out Trump for xenophobic comments. “Last Thursday we called out the President’s racism—it turned into our biggest day ever,” Penzeys wrote in a post to its Facebook business page. The company said one-third of its email subscribers opted out of its list after it took a position against the president, but 2.5 times as many signed up after hearing about it. Moreover, it boasted, sales soared: “…last Thursday, in just one day, more orders were placed than in the first 17 days of July last year combined.”

This all was brought to my attention by the Facebook algorithm machine, which let me know a Facebook friend had like the post. Upon reading the post, which had more than 18,000 shares and 6,300 comments, I could see that the “top” comment was written by another Facebook friend. Facebook’s self-reinforcing echo chamber was in full swing, quickly pointing out what my friends are reacting to on a page I don’t follow for a brand I never heard of.

While reading news on Facebook, I found that Reebok, the tennis shoe company, was mocking President Trump for remarking that French President Emmanuel Macron’s wife appears to be in “such good shape.” Reebok, a fitness brand for sure, created an instructional chart on when it is appropriate to make such a remark. In the gym? No. In a diplomatic session, no. If you want to know when it is a OK, check out the sneaker company’s graphic.


Again, how did this happen? For starters, Trump is a brand, first and foremost. That changes everything. We are not talking about a political brand, such as Bush or Clinton, but a commercial brand. Trump himself equated his brand’s value with his net worth, even including some vast, ethereal unrealized value, whatever that is.

His brand is aspirational and hints of luxury, such as the Trump casinos. This is somewhat reminiscent of the luxury brand of Ralph Lauren, which masterfully co-opted preppy attire to evoke the aura of the landed gentry of America. Anyone could fancy themselves WASP-y, if they wore the right clothes.

The Ralph Lauren ads often portrayed beautiful people in nautical settings or posed in elegant gardens, as if they lived in Newport or the Hamptons. Remember, Ralph himself was not of that world, but certainly arrived there after crafting a powerful brand with staying power around it. That is to be applauded.

Trump’s brand is the gilded counterpart. Rather than capture the aesthetic of noblesse oblige, the Trump brand is glitz and panache. Taking a side-by-side comparison in Caddyshack terms, Trump is Rodney Dangerfield’s character crashing the party at Lauren’s Bushwood.

And while I don’t know anyone offended by the Lauren brand, the Trump brand certainly has drawn a lot of scoffs over the decades. Nonetheless, the brand was leveraged through reality TV and converted for political purposes. Whatever your politics, that is something to marvel over and analyze.

While the Clinton brand has always been polarizing and the Bush 43 brand caused havoc in the wake of the Iraq invasion, the Trump political brand’s polarization is different. It brought into hyper relief a bifurcation within the Republican Party. The Never Trump people emerged and then seemingly slunk into the woodwork.

Anyone who speaks critically of the Trump White House is marked as a Democrat or liberal snowflake. This brand is not big on policy particulars in the political discourse.

This lack of comity seems to have ripped open the policy positions of commercial brands, such as Reebok’s or Penzeys.

If you own a business and contemplate whether to take out a pro or anti-Trump position, first ask yourself if it is necessary. Is it necessary for your business or for you personally? Will it advance your business objectives? Can it wait?

A prospect once asked me what to do about negative feedback online and I joked not to respond like Trump does to his critics via Twitter. Practically speaking, most people and brands cannot be that brash and harsh. Always be true to your brand and your customers.

If you are going to take a social activism position, then stick with it. Same goes with any marketing initiative: ensure it meets and aligns with your regular business objectives.

P.S. If you have examples of retail brands going after a president in administrations past, please share by emailing me at

Refining Your Business Marketing Message

Define yourself before somebody else does it for you.

If you don’t make it clear in your first impression how your business is differentiated, someone else will be glad to fill in the gap for you and it might not be flattering.

Imagine you are watching someone’s elevator pitch and they are just sputtering. For all you know, they are brilliant at their craft. But it’s not showing.

A friend opened a business and people came streaming in, including another friend. When I asked for her feedback, she was dismissive. Unfairly so, I think. Her beef was that the business owner did not make time for her (did I mention the big crowd?), from which she incorrectly deduced he must not be an expert in his field. Wrong. Surely, had he been able to tell her about his background and approach, she would have appreciated his expertise.

Same goes for digital and print marketing. Be sure that the way you present yourself in these media are how you present yourself in person.

In addition, only present in social media the core focus of your business. For example, if your corporate softball team wins a tournament or participates in a charity game, by all means post a photo of this to the company Facebook page. But leave it off LinkedIn. And, for the love of Pete, do not post party pictures of the softball team at the bar.

stay on point with branding

Just yesterday a major news organization took to Facebook Live with a pie eating contest in honor of National Pi(e) Day (3/14, get it?). As of this writing, it had 107,000 views and 505 comments. The reaction was mixed, with some commenters enjoying the fun and others annoyed that they received a Facebook Live notification for The Washington Post, but the content was not breaking news. Not even close. Or, as one commenter put it: “Yep. The people who send me notifications about the most important, urgent things going on in the world did not need to notify me this was going on. Choose your spots more carefully, WaPo.”

My personal favorite among the comments: “What a wonderful filling to watch these pietiful newspeople get below the crust of the story.” Others wondered if journalism school was worth it.

I myself suggested that this content not be shared with the same audience who most likely followed the Facebook page to get actual news. It may be that the company is trying to be hip or aspiring to go viral with pie eating. Or, as some commenters noted, everyone needs a break, especially in Washington these days. Still, some comments derided this as fiddling while Rome burns. Remember, this is the paper that broke Watergate. Maybe younger folks don’t identify it that way. One commenter said the contest was fun and better than the political [expletive]. Why, may I ask is she looking at a political newspaper?

In fact, my comment drew derision from a man with a spelling problem. Or, a man who likes to ironically misspell. My comment: “Why or how is this relevant to maintaining quality journalism and protecting democracy? Sorry to be a crank, but you probably should have left this as an internal team building event.” Again, like the others negative commenters, I dropped what I was doing to check on what I thought was news with a Facebook Live event breaking through.

“Wow. From someone who blogs about repurposed grits. Get a sense of hermour,” my derider wrote.

Grits? That’s right, I have a lifestyle blog about cooking, the great outdoors and reclaiming quality time. But “The Sage Leopard” is a separate website from Adroit Narratives, LLC. See what I’m getting at here? If I have a client who say, practices law or builds houses, I would never recommend they post about their personal hobbies on their business websites and social media accounts. My response to snarky misspelling man:

“That’s a lifestyle blog for fun. My other webpage is about business communications. Sorry, I used to do news and now I consult clients on digital marketing. This is not something I’d recommend for someone wanting to maintain seriousness in their business profile. And I used to be a grouchy news desk editor so I know about news room shenanigans. It doesn’t really belong in the same outlet as your primary business.”

Again, whatever you are selling, do not go off on a random tangent in that brand’s space. Are you selling pies from a bakery? Then, do not post about politics on your bakery website and bakery social media accounts.

Always stay consistent in your business profile and messaging.

For more information on business marketing and communications, contact consultant Katharine Fraser.




How & Why Print Marketing Still Matters in the Digital Age

Aside from your arsenal of digital marketing tools, I bet you rely on the time-tested staple of brand management: your business card. Not only do people still hand out business cards – because they work – but now there are new mod designs and shapes for business cards. Business cards are held, carefully read and, ideally, retained. They can also contain technology that brings people into digital content.

Augmentative reality images can be placed on printed material and then scanned on a phone or tablet. Using an app, the user is taken to a video. Imagine handing out business cards at a conference that bring people to a video about your product. That business card doesn’t seem so old-fashioned anymore, does it?

It is a first impression that determines if the card is retained and used by the recipient. Is it easy to read and is that content clear? The questions that must be answered are what is it this person does and does that offering matter to me? Does the content of the card make clear what is the nature of your business? If your company name does not explicitly include the business category, consider adding a tagline that does.

You want to strike the right balance between capturing as much useful information as possible and, by contrast, making it too busy looking. For instance, do you really need to list three or four phone numbers and a FAX number? Direct and mobile numbers suffice. Drop the www. prefix from your website address.

There is more real estate on the back of the card. I have a client who was inclined to cram a lot of information back there, enough copy for a large brochure. Still, it’s not a bad idea to place a list on the back of the card. We winnowed down the essentials of what a customer of this service provider would experience at their first consultation. We trimmed it down to five bullet points with short phrases. It looks good and tells a story of what the first meeting will accomplish and what key services are at the core of his business.

The business card remains a reliable workhorse of content marketing and can easily be integrated with your other marketing channels, including digital. Your card is expresses your business identity and should be as respected and carefully considered as your other communications.

To review your business communications and how to improve and augment them, contact consultant Katharine Fraser.

Adroit Narratives

Telling Your Business Story, Conveying Value Propositions

Websites and other digital content venues are living documents in which we communicate where we are going… together with our customers. Has your business model changed but not your content? Do you have new products, services or hires that clients and prospects should hear about in newsletters, on your website, social media, etc.? Then you need some new content.

Let me tell you how I go about my work as a business communications consultant. When I get a grasp of what a business is and how it works, then I want to write about it. The type of work I typically handle are blogs, other website content, social media and presentations.

What I do is tell a business story. Sometimes that is selling someone on an experience. For instance, the About Us section of a website should give someone the sense they have visited with your company in person and more importantly, that they want to buy from you.

Business stories should build confidence in the customer. When I covered Wall Street as a financial writer, the expression my editor used was “numbers tell the story.” I find out what metrics and other key indicators mean the most to you and your customers and make sure we get those points across to drive home your business story.

Enhancing communications, elevating the brand

I’ve worked on website launches where the client has a web designer who is expert in web development and SEO, but not a business writer. This is where I come in and craft unique content for that business that ensures all the key points and key words are addressed. This is not just writing for search engines, but writing for people and speaking in a voice conversant in your business culture.

Strong business writing is a specialty unto itself. My background covering a variety of businesses as a news reporter gives me a huge scope of expertise in different sectors. I can speak your business language and your customers’ language.

I interview the business principals to get in depth about what differentiates them, what their reputation is, what they are going after.

In one such conversation, I realized something major was missing from the initial website content. Turns out, a company has a star player who attracts business and that person’s name wasn’t on its website. I crafted paragraphs on this person and their contribution to the clients, and got that over to the web developer. If you had Google searched for that person in that business sector, I don’t think you would have found them at their new company.

In other cases, a business may be running on autopilot and remaining profitable with its existing customer base. And, it wants to reach new pools of customers. It’s time to rev up some fresh content targeted to those audiences. You don’t need to change everything. You are expanding on your messaging. It’s not a costume change. Instead, we can reach more people with added vocabulary. The new content can keep you engaged and relevant.

Tips for Better, Clearer Writing

The first one sounds simple, but I know professional writers who skip this step:

Edit yourself. Let’s use email as an example. This is not a quick glance through what you just banged out. Read the content from the bottom up – sentence by sentence – that’s how you catch the big oops you would have glossed over when glancing down to the end.

When approaching writing, especially a presentation, blog or new marketing material, some people may feel like Charlie Brown with the football. Every time they intend to write something, it is as if the blank screen is Lucy taunting Charlie Brown with a football kickoff. They intend to do it, but don’t want to flop on their back.

Reimagine your audience as your friendly neighbor over the fence. You cannot see his facial expression, but you know who they are, a nice guy, a smart guy. Let’s say he doesn’t know anything about your business – how would you explain the situation to him? You’d simplify it. You wouldn’t dumb it down, but you’d frame your business scenario in a way that would be clear, sensible and persuasive. Now, write down what you just said in that imaginary conversation and work from there! Most of the time, good writing is matter of a reflection. Or, as a good editor will tell you, “Think before you write!”

For more tips on better business communications or to obtain customized consulting, contact consultant Katharine Fraser.

Adroit Narratives

Find Your Voice in Business Communications

Often when meeting with entrepreneurs I ask them, “What do you want to say to your market?” I’m met with a thoughtful pause before words they had not yet spoken pour out toward me. Suddenly, the business owner is reengaged and charged by their articulation.

Often we are so busy with operations and business development that we don’t make time to reflect on what we want to say to the marketplace.

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of brainstorming with a business owner on the verge of launching a new website. It’s not just a website, but a sales channel for multiple lines of products and services. We sat eyeball-to-eyeball – her preference for meetings – going through business objectives, belief systems and word associations.

She noted that many words in our world have lost their meanings and she wanted to choose her words carefully, to brand herself. This was a truly rewarding experience. I urged her to blog too because she has a unique ability to speak and write with equal clarity and authenticity.

Another client also ensures that her business communications, including a newsletter and social media posts, capture her own voice. When they are drafted or edited by others, the posts must channel that voice. This makes the experience recognizable to the customers as her brand, which is exciting, enthusiastic and encouraging.

Don’t be like everyone else. Use your own voice in your marketing. Your customers like what they hear and it is your brand.

For more advice on business communications writing and editing, contact consultant Katharine Fraser.

Adroit Narratives