Allan Barr: The Queen’s death is not a marketing opportunity

LAST week we witnessed one of the biggest news events of the last 50 years when the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth was announced.

From a marketing and communications perspective, everything went dark as we advised clients on the appropriate response to the news.

Whatever your personal beliefs, there is no denying the role that the Royal Family and specifically the Queen, has played in public life, and the sheer size and scale of that contribution. This was particularly evident by the crowds that gathered at Balmoral, along the Royal Mile and at Westminster Abbey.

When it comes to businesses acknowledging the Queen’s death, it is important not just to consider your own views but also those of your colleagues and customers. Ploughing ahead with ‘business as usual’ communications could appear at best insensitive or at worst tone deaf.

Whilst there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when reacting to such major world events, organisations need to give careful consideration when it comes to their marketing and communications activity.

In the immediate aftermath, our general advice to clients was to cease all external communications and withdraw any planned external content in the short term. Where appropriate, we also provided guidance on marks of respect, drafting statements for internal and external communications as well as advising on suitable images for use on social media platforms.

While many businesses will simply wait for the mourning period to pass before resuming their marketing activities, plenty have been quick to issue statements of condolences. The vast majority are tactful and respectful, but we have seen numerous examples of brands which have tried to capitalise on the news. The negative reaction on social media towards said brands underlines the severe lack of judgment some organisations have displayed.

Exploiting the news of the Queen’s passing for financial gain isn’t the smartest marketing strategy and some brands are already in crisis comms mode. If history tells us anything, the blame for such activity will inevitably be laid at the feet of junior social media executives who ‘do not represent the views of their employers’. It never ceases to amaze me how often the keys to such public facing channels are left to the most inexperienced people in an organisation.

Another pitfall to look out for is brand partnerships, especially amidst the popularity of influencer engagement on social media. Brands need to be mindful of affiliations with influencers who go on to share anti-monarchy messages which sit right alongside their paid brand content. When it comes to influencer engagement, it pays to do your homework and clearly state the ground rules so everyone is clear on what is and isn’t allowable.

Naturally, broadcast media, newspapers and social channels have been dominated by the Royal Family in recent days, and this will continue into next week. However, opportunities still exist in the media for marketing messages or brand news, albeit severely restricted.

Regardless, throughout this period of mourning and in the days following the state funeral, brands need to ask themselves whether that press release they are desperate to issue could see them making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Allan Barr is CEO at The BIG Partnership, Scotland’s largest marketing and communications agency

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