Doing business in a different world

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The world changed on Sept. 11. For families, businesses, governments and, yes, for marketers, life will never be the same. Marketers already were grappling with a softening economy when the terrorist attacks occurred. What should they do under these new, difficult circumstances?

To help answer that question, the Association of National Advertisers reviewed the experiences and "best practices" of past relevant situations and sought the counsel of experienced members as well as national policymakers. Here is the result of that inquiry, which we hope will be beneficial to the entire marketing community:

* Take care of your people. Go overboard in giving them time and space to emotionally react and recover. Do whatever you can to retain your best talent. There is a huge, hidden cost in alienating employees or pre-maturely downsizing-only later to be faced with rehiring, retraining and remotivating your team.

* Get really close to customers. Marketers must understand their new priorities, goals, fears and heroes. They must stay close because consumer emotions are likely to change constantly in the coming months and years.

* Help the nation restore consumer confidence. This is a new communications objective-above and beyond the ones marketers typically work against. But if major companies can weave persuasive, confidence-building messages into their marketing communications, our economy and our nation will greatly benefit.

* Demonstrate true corporate concern. Be helpful. Be informative. Be generous with acts of true corporate kindness. It's the best kind of cause-related marketing.

* Project leadership. Inspiring new leaders have emerged in the past two weeks. Now is the time for senior business executives across the country-with their words and their actions-to be involved, visible, caring and commanding.

* Stay close to your sweet spot. Concentrate on what you do best rather than spreading yourself too thin. Rethink the timing of that product launch or that new promotional campaign.

* Be sensitive about the message, tone, imagery and placement of advertising. Comb existing ads and marketing materials for irreverent, edgy, maudlin and comic references, and determine whether they are still appropriate.

* Look closely at the news, feature and entertainment environments in which your messages will appear, avoiding unintended associations with the image of your products, services and company.

* Be inclusive in marketing communications. Our president and national leaders have gone out of their way to stress the importance of national unity and respect for all peoples. Marketers can help America-and themselves-by incorporating an important social message of multiculturalism into their mainstream advertising.

* Be a true partner with your advertising agency and other marketing resources. Share with them-rather than imposing on them-the decision-making process for adjusting your marketing activities, reducing costs, if necessary, and planning future directions.

* Look for ways to position your business for growth. Without being exploitative, seek out appealingly priced media buys and sponsorships. Give serious consideration to alternative marketing disciplines, such as public relations, grass-roots marketing, online advertising and local store campaigns.

* Improve internal processes. Use a downturn to enhance the way you go to market. Rethink old approaches. Identify new resources. Find better ways to connect with customers.

* Be prepared for the future. Create a marketing communications crisis plan. Anticipate different crisis scenarios that might occur. Develop guidelines and procedures for dealing with them. Appoint a crisis czar and team that can be quickly mobilized. Maintain up-to-date contact lists of marketing staff, agency personnel and media representatives.

Some of these suggestions are broad and overarching. Others are specific and tactical. Collectively, they will help marketers not only weather today's storm but thrive in tomorrow's world.

Mr. Sarsen is president-CEO, Association of National Advertisers, New York.

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