Digital Marketing Disaster? Hope You Have An Emergency Plan!

With 54 inches of snow so far in New York this year, we have officially broken into the top ten worst winters on record. It’s been one snow emergency after another. Enough already! That said, being prepared has definitely made this harsh winter much easier to handle.

The same goes for marketing disasters. Whether it’s a PR crisis, a search algorithm update or a major technology change, a marketing disaster can strike at any moment. Yet, few marketers are prepared for it. Instead, the response often looks like this:


…which is usually soon followed by something like this:


But you can do better than that. Much like FEMA recommends for other types of disasters, you need an emergency plan in place for potential marketing disasters — and in fact, many emergency preparedness tips are applicable to marketing disasters as well. Below is a quick list to help you get prepared for a marketing crisis.

Marketing Emergency Planning

Meet with your team to talk about marketing disaster preparedness.

  • When a marketing disaster happens, the disruption it causes can quickly cause chaos. It’s critical to be ready for a marketing crisis BEFORE it hits.
  • Discuss how the group will respond to various marketing disasters like a CEO scandal, an offensive employee tweet, a product recall, etc.
  • Be sure to also talk about important issues that could cause a marketing crisis such as a search algorithm change, SEO penalty, website outage, etc.

Discuss potential “power outages” with your team.

  • A business can quickly have a potential marketing disaster on its hands from the sudden loss of a team member.
  • Have a plan to deal with the situation if an employee leaves the company unexpectedly. You never know who might be considering a career change, a relocation, or taking time off to focus on family.
  • Discuss what to do if an employee takes an unexpected leave of absence due to injury or illness, and how you will back-fill that role temporarily.

Cross-train your team so everyone is ready.

  • When a marketing disaster strikes, you can’t afford to let the situation get worse because a key team member is unavailable to do their part.
  • Be sure to cross train employees so they are familiar with their colleagues’ core job skills.
  • Establish a password protocol that ensures multiple individuals have important access codes. That way, if the main contact is unavailable, the backup can help you access important tools or information.

Collect multiple contact points for each team member.

  • When marketing disasters happen, chances are you’ll need to communicate with the whole team. But these situations don’t always happen on a weekday, so be sure you can reach your team members in a variety of ways.
  • Collect mobile numbers, email addresses, and instant messenger screen names in case you need them in an emergency.

Make sure your team uses various alert devices during a marketing crisis.

  • When a marketing disaster strikes, it is critical to know how the situation is developing.
  • Monitoring is key. Be sure to set up Google alerts, social alerts, and search ranking alerts for the team to stay on top of issues involved with your marketing crisis.
  • Consider using a tool like to route alerts across different media to various team members.
  • Be sure to develop an initial list of terms for your alerts that are potentially associated with your crisis. Create additional terms and alerts throughout the crisis as needed.

Practice for a marketing disaster.

  • You never know when a marketing disaster might strike. But when it does, you need to act immediately. You can’t afford to waste valuable time. You must be prepared for the unexpected. That means practice!
  • Plan to have a quarterly mock marketing disaster scenario to work through with your team. Be sure to cover the situation from numerous angles.
  • Write down the recommended response. You might want to refer to it during a real marketing crisis.

Protect your point of sale.

  • Your business won’t survive long without sales. During a marketing crisis, it is important that your point of sale — typically a website — remains open for business.
  • Run nightly backups of your site, and store it on a separate server.
  • Replicate your database on a secondary server.
  • Use a CDN to ensure authorized users can access a cached copy of your site from anywhere in the world.
  • Run load testing simulations to ensure servers can cope with traffic surges and denial-of-service attacks.

Have a supply of “non-perishable content” ready.

  • Content is your marketing food — and you can’t risk running out of it during a marketing disaster. Even if you are too busy dealing with the crisis at hand, you still need to have that content available.
  • Fortunately, you can stock up on it in advance. You can create “evergreen” content — material that is not time sensitive and will always be relevant.
  • Create a small stockpile of articles, videos, images and tweets that you can fall back on if you run low on the resources to create new content for a few weeks.
  • Need ideas? Think about broad topics. People will always be interested in ways to feel better, be more efficient, more comfortable, healthier, richer, and better looking.

Have the right marketing tools available.

  • When things go wrong, you need emergency marketing tools to help you identify the problems and stop things from getting worse.
  • Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools give critical insight into what’s happening on your site.
  • Conductor’s SearchLight or BrightEdge can help you gauge the impact on organic rankings and links.
  • Enterprise startups like Bottlenose can help decipher social activity.

Save some resources for marketing emergencies.

  • Because you never know when a marketing disaster might hit, try to create a budget safety net for these situations.
  • Ideally, set aside a little bit of money from each marketing channel. That way you’ll have some resources available in case something unexpected comes up.
  • For example, a product recall may require new content, or even the development of a new microsite very quickly.

Have a security plan.

  • A marketing disaster can come in all forms, including a security breach — something that is happening all too often today.
  • For example, Kickstarter recently reported a security breech with stolen passwords and user information. And two months earlier, millions of passwords were stolen from Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo and LinkedIn through a sophisticated malware attack.
  • To help prevent this from happening to your business, frequently update your social media passwords, and hold security training to make sure that employees are using secure passwords.
  • As marketers, look at how some of the bigger companies (like Kickstarter) addressed the situation, so you have a plan in place in case your site gets breeched.
  • As an Internet user, be sure to use a password manager like Dashlane to protect yourself when your information is stolen from sites you use.

Be prepared for the long haul.

  • Some marketing disasters, such as a security breach, are relatively short lived. But bigger marketing disasters, such as JC Penney’s failed turnaround attempt last year, can linger on for years if not fixed.
  • Marketing teams need to brace themselves for the possibility of ongoing challenges by adopting a lean marketing approach. This means thinking like a start-up.
  • During a long-term marketing crisis, you may have to do away with the big budget TV ads and expensive enterprise tools. Instead, you might need to focus on grass-root marketing campaigns and use free tools.
  • Recovery should come through innovation and creativity, not from throwing more money at tired tactics.

Hopefully, there won’t be many more winter storms to deal with this year — but online marketing disasters can happen at any time. Be smart; get prepared. Think about worst case marketing scenarios and build a plan of action. When the algorithm shifts, budgets get cut or your site goes down, you’ll be ready — and you’ll emerge a stronger, wiser marketer.

If a marketing disaster strikes will you be ready? What have you done to prepare? Share your tips here.

Stock images from Bing free to share and use commercially.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Marketing Strategies Column


About The Author: is the director of SEO Innovation at Catalyst, a thought leader in the organic, paid and social space. Dan has been doing SEO since 2002. An avid programmer and entrepreneur, Dan co-founded Triberr, an Influencer Marketing platform


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  • Faizan Riaz

    Interesting article.
    I personally believe that one must be prepared with at least one month of content which can be used in case of emergencies.


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