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Empathy, Transparency Guide Marketers During COVID-19 Crisis

April 09, 2020

The unprecedented challenges being created by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are forcing behavioral healthcare organizations to think on their feet—and with their heart—to revise their marketing plans accordingly.

Companies are reallocating dollars between marketing channels, as well as carefully crafting messaging to patients, their families and other key stakeholders.

On Feb. 12, San Antonio Recovery Center opened a new location, part of an expansion in which the drug and alcohol treatment company has looked to grow its presence in other parts of Texas. CEO Raul Ruelas says SARC had invested significant money in SEO to target Austin, Dallas and Houston, but once cities and counties across the state began implementing social distancing policies and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a stay-at-home mandate in late March, Ruelas put statewide expansion on the back burner and doubled down on marketing at home in San Antonio.

“People aren’t traveling a whole lot,” Ruelas says. “They’re staying at home. We’re scaling that [SEO budget] back and investing it locally to let people know we’re open and that this is a good time to get the help you need.”

For SARC, this has meant spending more on local TV ads and increasing outreach to alumni.

As for messaging, there is a delicate balance to be struck between reassuring potential clients that now is a good time to seek treatment without coming across as predatory, says Melanie Long, an independent marketing consultant in Cleveland.

“Think like a human talking to a human instead of a company trying to sell,” Long says.

In addition to showing empathy, Long says now is a time for transparency over everything in marketing.

“It’s true for any organization that you need to communicate with your clients how you are going to be handling this. [Explain] your steps moving forward so that clients know those clearly and succinctly, and feel like you’re taking care of it, that you’re taking care of them, and that you’re thinking about it,” she says. “Even if nothing changes or you are continuing to provide care with telehealth, clients still need to know that. Just providing that support and them knowing you’re there for them and you will continue to be there for them, if that’s the case.

“And if for any reason a company can’t provide the same services,” she adds, “they need to communicate that as well.”

At SARC, transparency means proactively telling both current and potential patients how the organization is protecting patients and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company now mandates temperature checks for all individuals who enter its facilities, and it welcomes visits from the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District once or twice per week to discuss policy changes and review procedures.

Ruelas says COVID-19 screenings are now a standard part of intake calls as well.

“There are 15 questions that we ask everybody in terms of having traveled or an increase in temperature,” he says. “And if the person is not asking about COVID-19, we tell them what we’re doing to make sure our clients are safe. Even though they might not ask, when they hang up the phone, they’re thinking about it. We’ve put banners on our website talking about our response and what we’re doing with regards to infection control, talking about what we’re doing to keep people safe.”

Social media offers another platform to connect with potential clients and reassure stakeholders that your organization is taking appropriate measures. First, though, Ruelas and Long each have a piece of advice for behavioral health and addiction treatment providers looking to ramp up their social presence.

Ruelas points out that without LegitScript certification, advertising on Facebook (as well as in paid search results on Google and Bing) is a non-starter. Long, meanwhile, says to know your personnel and don’t take on more than your staff can handle.

“These are trickier waters right now especially as some companies are cutting back on their marketing staffs so they don’t have someone to curate comments or respond to messages right away,” Long says. “Consider your resources first. Every marketing department should consider the resources they have—and those they’ll continue to have—and what makes the most sense to focus on moving forward. If there’s only one person in your marketing department, it might not make a lot of sense to keep a huge presence on social media because it takes a lot of time to develop that community.”

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