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Wednesday, Jul 6, 2022

Crisis Messaging

Dianne McKay took the helm as sole owner of Mustang Marketing in April, with the retirement of founder Scott Harris. McKay joined Mustang in 2010 and has co-owned the agency with Harris since 2016. Mustang enjoyed a three-year growth rate of 85 percent from 2010 to 2013, and a spot in the Inc. 5,000 list of fastest-growing companies. Prior to her marketing career, McKay owned live broadcast facilitation and distribution company Strategic Television with her father, working closely with media executives at ABC and ESPN. McKay also serves as trustee to the Ventura County Community College District and spoke at Moorpark College graduation in 2016; Moorpark is one of three colleges in the district. She works frequently with area nonprofits, including the Greater Conejo Chamber of Commerce Board, Family Justice Center and Safe Passage Youth Foundation. Mustang’s clients range from nonprofits and public agencies to regional and international businesses, including outfitter Dickies FR, West Hills Hospital and Medical Center, the City of Thousand Oaks and Channel Islands YMCA. The marketing firm employs 10 people.Question: When did you know you would be sole owner of Mustang Marketing? Answer: The decision was made in 2014. I wanted to buy it, the Harrises wanted to retire. I wasn’t done yet and it seemed like a good strategy for them and a good way for me to grow the company more like I wanted to. We went through bumps and bruises even in those years with losing a big client, but never expected anything quite like COVID. I don’t think anyone could have predicted it.What was it like?I tend to be a doomsday machine anyway; I’m always looking at the worst possible scenarios, but even I didn’t see this one coming. We have been working remotely since I owned the company and I have led them only via Zoom. Some of our clients went into immediate financial turmoil because they were closed down, so they cut budgets, immediately cut marketing retainers. So we saw a big dip in business right away. I was lucky enough to get funded with the PPP loans in the first round of funding. That took a lot of the immediate stress off, to know that I had a little time to breathe and figure things out.How about now?I think we have almost everyone up to paying in full now. We had taken their retainer either down to nothing or taken a percentage off.How have client relationships fared?Clients that needed the marketing but couldn’t afford it, I could afford to keep doing it for them. The PPP was paying my staff and they could keep working and do the marketing for clients that couldn’t afford to pay for it. Primarily nonprofits and real small businesses, to help them out.How did you apply crisis management techniques?When it’s a worldwide crisis, everyone knows what it is. Just be really clear with any changes … and if there weren’t, make that really clear. For nonprofits, I really encouraged them, even though it was going to be hard, to stay on brand and stay with their message and kind of power their way through as best they could. Show some empathy for their donors who maybe couldn’t donate for a while.What about other businesses?Messages of hope and empathy. Not everyone is doing well and so if your message is ‘we’re doing great, things are better than ever,’ for someone who’s not, that’s not going to feel good. People want to know, if they’re your client, that things are going well, but … you have to balance the ‘yes, we’re able to deliver.’What types of media are best to deliver this message?I tell clients to really look at their digital footprint. LinkedIn, Facebook, emails, anything you put out there, that the messaging is all the same. Sometimes you can’t tell the absolute truth and there are privacy issues to deal with, but use those tools more than you may have before.

What about businesses that usually rely on events or in-person interaction for marketing?You can’t go to any conventions right now to meet new people, so LinkedIn has kind of become the new big convention. You post what industries you’re in and what you’re interested in, and their algorithms do the work for you. It’s what you might have done if you were at a big convention, meeting people. I’ve encouraged people to really spend some time on their LinkedIn pages and sent out tips on how to make your page a little more engaging. So if someone goes on it, they might need something you provide, they might call you because you have an interesting LinkedIn page. Much different from a year ago when they would have met you in person somewhere. I call it the new tradeshow, the big LinkedIn tradeshow.What other methods have worked in the pandemic?People are doing webinars which I think is really helpful too, but webinars are more of a one-way communication, even though they have Q&A, whereas with LinkedIn, you can look at people and go, who’s a good fit for you to maybe strike up a conversation with. It’s a little more subtle and on your time.Do you have any marketing advice for small businesses right now?Small and medium-size businesses should have a solid marketing strategy for 2021. If we’ve learned anything this year, it has to have some flexibility to deal with whiplash changes; but there should be a budget and a plan in place. The general public has so much emotion riding on 2021 to lift us up, whether it is realistic or not, so all businesses should have a plan to take advantage of that optimism by making sure their target market, or any new markets, know they are ready for business and can take care of their customers’ needs. …  As a marketing agency it is our job to help create those plans and execute them.Any advice for building or maintaining business relationships during the pandemic?You can’t just start having those relationships. We always encourage our clients to know their local government leaders, know their local community leaders, commercial and state legislators. Have those relationships established in advance. They might need you for a committee, they might need you for advice.

Do you have any examples from your career?When I was in the live television business, I owned Strategic Television for 20 years. One morning, I was on the phone, we were checking on some satellite space when one of our major satellites, someone hit a telemetry rocket and sent it out into space. All of a sudden, all of us that were planning on using it that day, from ABC for college football, us for a boxing match that night on ESPN, we all got on the phone to see what we all had in our pool that any of us could use. So we worked it out and all of our shows ended up happening that night, even though we were all scheduled to be on this satellite that didn’t exist anymore. This is live television; you just can’t miss, you have to have the show up there. And that was built upon my relationships with ABC and ESPN over many, many years. We would all work together and make it happen.How did you start in live broadcast television?I call myself the reluctant entrepreneur. When I was in college I saw myself working at a big company, wearing a suit and going to work everyday, but I started out working with my dad in the satellite industry, when satellites were just coming into their own as a way of television distribution, so I got to be an expert in the field when I was 25. He and I had our own business, and unfortunately he died of a heart attack five years into it, so I was alone. It’s not what I had planned, but I grew that business into a very successful, internationally known company, even though it wasn’t big. We were very good at what we did. It was a very male industry, we televised most of the championship boxing matches. Back when (Mike) Tyson lost in Tokyo, I was there in Japan. I was definitely in a man’s world.How does the marketing industry compare?Marketing is different; it’s much more gender balanced. I think it’s fun. I like the challenge of helping other people with their businesses. We’re kind of more of a generalist company, we don’t specialize in health care or finance or transit. We’ll take on any industry because I like that. I like to cross-pollinate with the ideas, I like learning about different industries. It’s very interesting to me.What’s next for Mustang Marketing?We couldn’t really make the building we were in COVID safe, so we moved out. We’re all working from home now, and I have a stack of office buildings in front of me that I’m going to look at, new offices (in Thousand Oaks) where we can all work together as soon as we’re allowed to. It’s a better way to work.What about the clients?We haven’t stopped. We plan to keep things running in 2021. We have a lot of work booked in 2021 so I feel really good about it.

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