Manitoba tech and marketing businesses offer free services during COVID-19 pandemic

By | April 28, 2020

Giving back and offering tokens of appreciation have been recurring themes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, from free oil changes and meals to simple letters from the heart.

Manitoba tech and marketing companies are no exception, joining the fray of those offering some services for free — a strategy experts say could benefit them in the future.

Winnipeg-based Sherpa Marketing noticed a need.

“As a marketing company, there is not a lot that we can do to support health-care professionals,” said Marty Fisher, president of the company, which also has offices in Calgary, Regina and Kitchener. 

“The other people getting crushed in this whole thing are small business people and they’re going to be really short on cash,” he said. “What we could do to help was just simply offering our services for free.”

Fisher launched what he calls the “Adopt a Business” challenge.  

The company is offering up to $50,000 in free marketing services to businesses that have been hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. One company will be selected from Winnipeg and another in Kitchener, with each qualifying for up to $25,000 worth of services. 

Fisher challenged his colleagues and other marketing companies to do the same. By last Friday, Tripwire Media Group, RODio and Arialys eCommerce — all Manitoba based companies — had all accepted the challenge. 

Free information hub 

Another Manitoba-based tech company, Magnified.Health, created an information hub about COVID-19 to keep the public informed. The site curates credible and trusted information from medical professionals and official sources across North America that’s updated every 10 minutes.

“There was so much uncertainty and worse, there was misinformation that wasn’t helpful,” said Nicole Harris, vice president of marketing and communications for the company. 

Harris said she and her team of two other co-founders worked during their free time for four weeks to develop the hub on their website. 

“We felt it was our responsibility as a health and wellness company and a tech company to help people understand what was going on…to provide them with reliable accurate credible information,” she said.

Giving back builds network and reputation, says expert  

Klaus Meyer, professor of international business at Western University, says offering charitable service can bring potential benefits for companies in terms of building reputation and networks. 

“The main benefit really is to get your name out and how you can translate that into a business,” said Meyer. 

GoOil.ca is one of the companies offering free services to health-care and frontline workers. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

 

He said consumers with more spending power might be concerned about the values of businesses they choose and are willing to pay a premium if they know the company is doing good things for society. 

“Reputations are built and lost at times of crisis. So if someone disappoints the consumer, that can have a negative impact on the reputation,” Meyer said. “It goes both ways.” 

Fisher said he doesn’t have expectations about gaining long-term benefits for his company through the Adopt a Business challenge. 

“I think you just have to give relentlessly and whatever karma comes our way, that’s great,” he said, adding Sherpa Marketing’s revenue has been “crushed” since the pandemic. 

Reputation still might not transfer

Wenlong Yuan, Stu Clark Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Manitoba, said having a good reputation doesn’t guarantee that a business will survive the pandemic and create a competitive advantage. 

“I think it’s a good thing but I don’t think that it’s guaranteed,” Yuan said.

“People tend to forget others’ good deeds. Prosocial activities are great, but it doesn’t mean the reputation will transfer into financial profits after the lock down.” 

Yuan also questions whether businesses will get enough exposure for their good deeds to build reputation. 

He said the pandemic is making businesses rethink what they can offer to society and there’s been numerous discussions about how firms should innovate, but expecting them to survive by solely innovating is unrealistic and harmful. 

“Many small business owners are not equipped to be that flexible,” said Yuan. “Taking innovation as the best solution for small firms to deal with the lock down is just wishful thinking.” 

As for Fisher, he said his company has been providing free marketing ideas for its top clients over the last six weeks to help them navigate the pandemic, which has been “really appreciated.” 

“We’ve learned I guess in conventional terms you have to give in order to get,” he said.

Sherpa Marketing’s challenge is open until May 8. 

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