How Top CMOs Navigated Pandemic Messaging

Brands spoke with Forbes at NewFronts about their experiences

(Clockwise, from top left): Forbes editorial communities director Jenny Rooney spoke with Marisa Thalberg, Lowe’s; Melissa Grady, Cadillac; and Kenny Mitchell, Snap, about their marketing efforts. Forbes

The coronavirus pandemic and social unrest have put a new onus on conversations between chief marketing officers and publishers to lure advertising dollars to their media properties, as well as to shape those brands’ messaging in a way that feels relevant and authentic to the times.

Forbes used its time slot during its first NewFronts to have that conversation.

“We’ve done so much innovating, and we’ve always been a fast mover,” Forbes chief revenue officer Jessica Sibley told Adweek ahead of the presentation. She said the publication, which has attracted new readers recently (a trend reported by other media organizations during the pandemic), has a readership made up of more women than ever before, as well as larger percentages of Gen Z and Gen X audiences.

To hear pain points and opportunities that await marketers and publishers, Forbes editorial communities director Jenny Rooney spoke with Marisa Thalberg, chief brand and marketing officer for Lowe’s; Melissa Grady, chief marketing officer at Cadillac; and Kenny Mitchell, chief marketing officer for Snap.

Here are some takeaways from the conversation:

‘Slam the brakes’ when you need to

Cadillac was in the middle of its then-newly released brand marketing campaign, beginning with a spot during the Oscars that pushed consumers to better themselves and reach their goals. “And then [the pandemic] hit and we had to basically slam the brakes,” Grady said. The messaging then pivoted, and has switched “about six times” to “follow that consumer sentiment” before the brand ultimately landed on messaging centered around everyone being in it together.

Support the team and move the business forward

As Snap adjusted to all that was going on, it kept in mind how users were interacting with its platform. In addition to meeting needs from consumers, Snap also made sure to think about how it was interacting with potential partners.

“’It’s really been that constant struggle and balance of supporting the team and doing the work that we can to drive the business,” Mitchell said. “A lot of what we focused on has really been elevating the voices of our community.”

Show empathy

Lowe’s focused on being authentic and showing the right kind of empathy that could respond to the news cycle, but also remain genuine. The brand focused on the DIY aspect of how consumers were trying to support first responders by making homemade signs, showing others how to do it. “I think it really speaks to how the brand had been somewhat under-leveraged this way as a brand presence in social, and with a sense of engagement. The response was really bigger than we expected,” Thalberg said.

@SaraJerde Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.