Four Tricks to Mastering the Art of the Pivot

If there’s one thing that’s predictable in marketing and communications, it’s that it’s often unpredictable. Shifts in client priorities, changes to federal legislation, and global catastrophes (such as a pandemic) are just a few of the possible wrenches that the world might throw into even the most ironclad of plans. 

All organizations will need to adjust—if not completely pivot—their marketing strategies at some point. Whether you’re developing long-term strategies or building a week-long awareness campaign, they need to be equal parts responsive, agile, and creative to be effective. Deliberately building plans that leave room for unexpected scenarios will serve you well—and help you come out on the other side stronger for it.  If you’re looking to master the art of the pivot, read on to learn about two of the most common types of pivots—and four ways to help you navigate them with grace.  

The Two Most Common Types of Pivots 

Pivots can take many forms, but these two are the most common types you may encounter in the wild:  

Slow and steady: adapting for the long term  

A slow and steady pivot involves making incremental changes over a longer period of time that gradually gets you closer to your desired end point. These are not emergency situations, but rather responses to changing circumstances, such as:  

  • Understanding shifts in societal trends 
  • Adopting new technologies 
  • Responding to changing consumer preferences 

Emergency: immediate change

Whether you’re navigating through a PR crisis or there’s been a sudden and drastic change in circumstances (hello, COVID-19), emergency pivots require you to adapt to abrupt disruptions in the environment that directly and immediately impacts your organization. Chances are your organization underwent an emergency pivot in March if your offices closed and your teams went distributed. 

Four Strategies to Prepare For and Navigate Pivots 

It can be incredibly frustrating to see your carefully planned strategies hit a snag—especially when it’s something out of your control. Adopting these four strategies will help ensure you and your team are prepared for anything—making any needed changes easier to implement. 

Communicate early and often 

Communicating early and often is essential, not only because it cements a team that is collectively prepared to respond to a broad spectrum of change, but also because it gives a platform to all contributing voices. Communication allows you to keep your finger on the pulse of the campaign. To be successful, all stakeholders must continuously evaluate big-picture goals, project milestones, and marketing strategies. 

You can accomplish this by establishing a regular cadence of team meetings to review project timelines and progress. Use these designated meeting times to talk through any barriers and challenges that may impact delivery. Outside of scheduled meetings, be sure to foster open lines of communication between all stakeholders.  

Know when to pivot 

No one wants to make a drastic change to a marketing campaign midstride. Your marketing team and clients have invested a lot of time, money, and resources into crafting a successful campaign, after all. It is precisely because the stakes are high, however, that you must know when you need to have a candid conversation. 

 These are some red flags to watch for: 

  • Goals for the campaign have shifted 
  • Marketing strategies no longer align with new campaign goals  
  • Your call-to-action is no longer relevant, helpful, or even welcome in the social space 
  • Economic shifts, government regulation, trends, and/or public sentiment have altered some, or all, of your delivery 

If adjusting your strategy can produce messaging or an outcome that’s more relevant and appropriate to the current climate, that’s a strong sign it’s a good time to pivot. While the thought of re-working months of strategic planning, targeted messaging, and finely tuned graphics can be daunting, making the decision to pivot will deliver more value to your client and their intended audiences. 

Assess the damage 

Once you’ve made the decision to pivot, you’ll need to assess the damage. What remains under your control? Are there new barriers that restrict messaging, in-person events, or an audience’s ability to interact with the campaign? A great way to assess these changes is to consider the following three levels: 

  1. Level green (all systems go): You still have control over these aspects of the campaign. How can you proactively adjust your approach to better align with your new goals?  
  2. Level yellow (proceed with caution): You have some control over these aspects of the campaign. What can stay the same and what needs to be changed? For the areas that need adjustment, are there alternative solutions available that can be exchanged to achieve the same outcome? 
  3. Level red (STOP!): These aspects of the campaign need to be completely overhauled or scrapped. For these aspects, consider their purpose, and the level of significance they play in the grand scheme of things. How does this impact the goals of the campaign?

Look for opportunities in times of change 

The most charitable assessment of 2020 is that it has made us all excellent lemonade makers. There is an art, if not a science, to squeezing success from difficult circumstances. As marketers, we just need the proper approach—and mindset.  

While changes and setbacks present themselves in many different forms, they also offer marketing professionals the chance to think outside of the box. Necessity is the mother of invention, as the adage goes. So, get creative with your adjustments—a necessary change can also be an opportunity for innovation and progress. Don’t be afraid to look for alternative solutions and pitch new ideas. Alternatives from left field may in fact offer central solutions. And as always, have fun with the campaign you’re planning while maintaining the same standards and quality of work. 

Although you can’t control what curveballs life will throw at your campaigns, you can control how you prepare yourself and your team to respond. So, next time you find yourself staring down a fork in the road, we hope these four strategies will help you navigate with ease—and turn turmoil into new opportunities. 

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