Marketing, Micro Businesses, and the Pandemic

A couple of weeks ago, we were contacted through our website by a producer at American Public Media’s “Marketplace.”  Here’s the exact note:


I am a producer for a public radio show called “Marketplace.” We cover business and the economy. I am interested in speaking with someone from your agency about how the pandemic has changed marketing strategy. I’m interested in hearing about how you may have adapted campaigns for the pandemic (especially for restaurants) and how that may have continued to evolve.

Please let me know if we can set up a call.


After re-reading the note a couple of times, I looked up this “Maria” person on LinkedIn to see if she really was with Marketplace.  Lo and behold she was legit.  Being a fan of NPR, I listened to Marketplace for years and was excited by the possibility being on the show with Kai Ryssdal.  Needless to say, I spoke to Maria.  She liked our conversation and let me know that she was going to take my “story” to the editorial team to see if there was a good fit for their “micro-businesses and the pandemic” series.  Admittedly, I had not heard any of the micro-business segments, so I went to take a listen.  They cover stories on all kinds of businesses, like crafting, handyman services, picture framing, self-care, located in Las Vegas, Detroit, Seattle, among others.  The stories are great, but what really impresses me is that the marketplace team has chosen to shed light on what it is like for small businesses in what is likely to be the toughest year of our entrepreneurial careers.  I am truly grateful for the coverage.  And, while I know that others were going through similar situations, there were days and nights that I felt very, very alone. Listening to these stories gives me a sense of camaraderie with these other business owners even though I’ve never met them.

In preparing for whatever Kai was going to ask me, I wrote down a few notes.  I thought I’d share them.  And, if you take a listen to the segment, maybe these notes will give you even more context.

  • The pandemic hit us hard at first.  Roughly half of our billings were from restaurant and retail clients.   Those nearly vanished overnight.  Our Q2 billings were 45% below prior year.  Not fun.
  • One silver lining is when we all went home on March 12, 2020, we had already been working one day a week from home.  So, all of the technology was in place for us to work virtually.  It was an extremely smooth transition.
  • The very worst day of my professional career was at the end of March, 2020, when we let go 4 people to cut expenses while continuing to serve our active clients. It was horrible. I literally cried a river.
  • We applied for an EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) and PPP.   It was quite the process.  We had originally applied for PPP with our long-term bank, Citibank.  They failed to come through for us, so we quickly worked with a local bank, New Haven Community Bank, and they were amazing and got us the loan.
  • While our retail and restaurant clients went in to survival mode, our consumer technology clients, like McAfee and Logitech, and our clients in the building space like Accurate Lock & Hardware and Carrier, surged.
  • We leaned into our expertise in brand strategy and campaign creative and successfully launched 5 brands in roughly 6 months, including Uncle Julio’s Restaurant Group’s virtual brand, Savage Burrito.  This work both saved us and solidified us.
  • It hasn’t just been us realizing the potential of focusing on brand building.  We’ve seen many brands lean into their core values during the pandemic.  Like Apple’s “Creativity Goes On” –– celebrating people’s passions for music, video, dance, painting, podcasting, while staying isolated at home.  Dove extended their belief in recognizing real beauty with their support of front line workers in their “Courage is beautiful” campaign.  They show real healthcare workers looking exhausted, with indentations on their faces from the masks they wear all shift.  And the New York Times at the core is all about uncovering the truth, they did a campaign, “The Truth is Essential,” that is all text spelling out truths like “It’s not just a bad flu.” and “It’s not a bioweapon.”  So powerful, so relevant and so enduring.  We think this investment in brand purpose bodes well for us, as we work with companies to strengthen their brands through both strategic and creative work.
  • Last week we moved out of our physical office space that we hadn’t been in since March 12, 2020, saving us roughly $60,000 per year.  We are investing that savings in our team and in our own rebranding.  Our new brand will better reflect our shift from integrated marketing to a hybrid agency where brand strategy and brand campaigns are core to our offering.

I was interviewed for about 10 minutes.  The masterful team at Marketplace, edited it down to about 4 minutes. Take a listen.

I didn’t do this by myself.  I had our entire team supporting the agency.  My business partner, David Klineberg, along with a tremendous team of incredibly talented marketers across the disciplines of technology, creative and account services: Marc Broad, Steve Badowski, Tanya Kanner, Julia Nuara, Jason Rose, Chris Rollins, and Chris Melillo. I know our future is bright and the worst is behind us.  Today, I know for certain, that any challenge can be overcome with a combination of intelligence, agility, determination, trust in ourselves, our team, our work and our values.  Cheers to all of us and to a prosperous 2021!