A note from our CEO…
March 24, 2020 • 4 minute read
The line, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley” in “To a Mouse,” by Robert Burns (later adapted and made famous by John Steinbeck) is often used to sum up what can happen to good ideas between inception and execution. The COVID-19 virus has done measurable damage to the lives and businesses of our friends, colleagues and clients, and while our nature is to look for silver linings in the midst of these events, there are few to be found here. We can, however, share a lesson we learned this week after we thought we had a clever idea.
A month ago, when the virus was largely a whisper overseas, our marketing team was prescient enough to predict the Legal Marketing Association’s annual conference on March 25-27 would be postponed. The conference serves as a fantastic opportunity to learn from our peers and create connections that often turn into new business. This year, Infinite signed up to co-sponsor a game night event with our friends at Calibrate Legal; we rented out the main bar at the Gaylord Hotel and ordered games like Connect Four and Scrabble for everyone to play. The postponement meant the Infinite team was going to miss out on dozens of potentially fruitful and fun conversations.
The marketing team got to work: How could we change course and demonstrate to the same group of people our company’s culture of being helpful? This question served as the genesis of our idea to send branded hand sanitizer and a few games to hundreds of our friends and (hopefully) future clients who had planned to attend the event. We figured both items would be useful in a quarantine. We immediately purchased hand sanitizer bottles before the masses bought them all and we drafted a letter that said, among other things, “This week we would have seen many of you at the Legal Marketing Association conference; we are sad but, of course, its postponement was unavoidable. At the event we had planned to co-host a game night, distributing the gifts pictured. Given current circumstances, we thought these might still be of value to you.”
The first red flag: How do we get the packages to people after all their offices are shuttered? We decided to offer recipients the option of us shipping to their home address and deleting the information afterwards. Although we would have honored that promise, something about gathering home addresses felt off-putting, though it didn’t rise to the level of creepy. It felt like a reasonable workaround, but doubt began to set in.
The marketing team, with the help of our external partners at Benecomms, worked throughout the month of March to pull together the logistics of our mailing. Without boring you with the details, it’s enough to note that many seemingly simple marketing tasks involve multiple complex steps: editing the mailing list on Hubspot, ordering supplies and coordinating with Amazon, drafting collateral material, etc.
It was during this three-week period that the national mood changed, gradually at first and then in a wave. What began as a potential nuisance – the threat of a mild flu – evolved into the sobering reality in which we now live. We all watch the news minute-by-minute, so I won’t rehash what you already know: The mindset of the world in late February when we came up with our quaint marketing idea is very different from the scary reality of March 24, the date we planned to mail out hand sanitizer to what we hoped would be future clients.
I decided to sanity-check my concerns with a couple trusted advisors in the industry. One of them wrote, “I think people would be appreciative and you are keeping yourself in front of them. That matters to me.” The second person wrote, “I think you run the risk of looking tone deaf. Some of the people on my team are really scared right now. I am talking with them every day to keep them grounded and productive. As time goes on it will only get worse. Right now, I am only interested in hearing how I can do my job better and be more effective during this time period.” Both perspectives were valuable. And both were right.
Despite the investment of a lot of time and money, I decided this morning to cancel our mailing. We’ve spent nearly 20 years carefully and thoughtfully earning a reputation for excellence in this industry, and the idea that even one person would view our well-intentioned exercise as tone deaf – or worse, that we become one of those cautionary marketing tales – was too much of a risk to take. There simply wasn’t enough upside to justify the potential cost.
There are a few valuable takeaways from our experience:
- It’s never too late to change course. Circumstances are fluid and we have to be ready to adjust, even if it costs money.
- Your reputation is all you have and you need to be vigilant every day about how it can be damaged.
- Go with your gut. I’m confident many of the people who were to receive our package would have been appreciative and thought it was useful, but that voice in the back of my head wouldn’t go away. Listen to it.
- There are several ways we can be helpful to our clients and friends during difficult times. Hand sanitizer would have provided actual value to people right now, but so would a phone call asking how we can be useful and offering assistance. The basics of interpersonal communication in business still matter.
- Turn negatives into positives. Beginning this week, we are going to mail our bottles of hand sanitizer to hospitals in need, and the games will go to facilities that could benefit from entertainment.
Lastly, on a professional note, our crisis team has been working extensively with firms to map strategy and support in a variety of ways. Kelsey Eidbo shares what she learned in a piece she just published: Communicating During Uncertain Times: How to Navigate Through a Crisis Environment. We hope you find this relevant and helpful.