Email Strategy: When The Government Shuts Down

Using news stories to guide email content demands a very important balance between sending relevant, interesting messages and capitalizing on an unfortunate situation. The simple rule of thumb: If the news isn’t positive, do not try to make a sale.

Take the recent government shutdown, for example. Everyone is hearing about it, discussing it and figuring out how it will impact them.

Chances are, you can use the shutdown to find some unique way to connect with your readers. In the fight to get noticed in the inbox, such a hot topic can get your email attention.

The question is, is there a way to do this respectfully and appropriately?

Essentials’ “We’re Open” Email

Amid the buzz about the government, Essentials sent out this email yesterday:

The Government might be Shutdown, but Essentials is not! 15% OFF ALL<br />
AVEDA products with the purchase of any service! TODAY ONLY! Don't forget about our October VIP Deals - Massage or Facial for $50.

This could be considered a timely, effective way to connect with customers without a lot of planning or time on your part. While a hair salon is not likely to be part of any government branch, it’s still relevant.

Now, they don’t make any political comments, which is a no-brainer, but still a plus.

But they’d better hope they have no government employees on their list who currently aren’t being paid They may not feel like spending extra money on beauty treatments, and they may resent Essentials if they perceive the email as capitalizing on their situation.

A Better Approach

Humor, without asking for a sale at all, is likely to go over better. Something to lighten the mood, something people can enjoy without having to trek anywhere or spend anything.

Although there is plenty of misfortune resulting from the situation, it is not (one could argue) an actual tragedy. Therefore, carefully played humor can be appropriate and appreciated.

For example, in the last few days, the following have popped up around the Web:

Time’s Panda Cam Spoof
Tweets Poking Fun At Washington

Even these examples could be seen as leveraging others’ misfortune in a bid for brand awareness, though, so it’s best to be careful.

Perhaps The Best Approach

Helping. Legitimately offering a helping hand is far less likely to attract criticism.

Many DC businesses are offering discounts, and better, free burgers, donuts, sandwiches and the like for government employees are a way that The cynical view: You at least have to make a sacrifice to get eyes on your brand. The optimistic view: You are legitimately a helpful and altruistic company.

The Do’s and Don’ts

If you’re going to leverage news for your content, keep these points in mind:

  • Be timely. Essentials sent this out the day it happened.
  • Be respectful. If a tragedy is happening, it’s wise to hold off on any marketing pushes.
  • Stay away from any political, religious or other hot-button references. Offend a subscriber, and you’ve alienated them.
  • Be unique. Many other businesses will be doing the same thing, so stand out from the crowd!

What Do You Think About This Particular Perspective?

I’m postulating here that mentioning current news can keep your emails relevant, that sales offers based on negative news stories are a bad idea and that careful humor is most likely okay.

In your experience, and in your opinion, is this the right mindset for the situation?