Explore Minnesota's goal is to entice people to visit the state's many attractions.

But as the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic has unfurled, Minnesota's official tourism promotion office paused its usual pitch and encouraged people to stay put.

"We are thinking very differently about how we market. … We have to do it with the right time and right message. When there is a stay-at-home order is probably not the right time," said Explore Minnesota Director John Edman.

Like Explore Minnesota, many advertisers have altered their marketing efforts, either transforming the tone of their ads to match the somberness of the health crisis or halting advertising altogether.

As a result, marketing agencies have scrambled to respond.

Staff from Minneapolis-based experiential marketing company Street Factory Media recently experienced their own version of "March madness."

Employees had been setting up at a major natural foods expo in California when they were told the event was canceled due to the coronavirus. The firm was also scheduled to complete fabrications for the NBA, but then the season was suspended. The March Madness work Street Factory had been hired to do disappeared. Programming meant for the South by Southwest conference and festivals in Austin, Texas, also got the ax.

"It was kind of one after the other," said Street Factory co-founder Matt Kelly.

Last month, the firm lost about $3 million worth of programming or contract work and had to furlough roughly a quarter of its close to 40 workers.

As part of efforts to keep its fabricators busy, Street Factory developed "Safe Serve Door Systems," a modular vinyl-wrapped kiosk that can be incorporated at restaurant and retail outlets to create pickup windows limiting contact between retail workers and customers.

In early April, the company installed its first "Safe Serve" at the Muddy Waters Bar and Eatery in Uptown. Street Factory is in discussions with manufacturers to build the systems nationally.

"It gives our team the chance to work," Kelly said.

Kelly said he plans to soon rehire the staff who were furloughed so they can begin planning for programming and events scheduled for later this year.

Advertisers across America have seen aspects of their business dry up in the recent weeks since the threat of COVID-19 has put the country in lockdown.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau recently released a survey of about 400 marketers that showed 70% of buyers had already adjusted or paused their planned advertising spending with digital ad spend down 33% and traditional media estimated to be down 39% from March to June.

To prepare for the worst, major marketing holding companies like Interpublic Group, the parent company of Carmichael Lynch and McCann Minneapolis, and Omnicom Group, which owns BBDO and Martin Williams, have recently freed up capital.

Most of the consumer food clients Minneapolis creative agency Broadhead serves have put their marketing plans on pause for the current quarter.

"It's not going to be a great second quarter for any agency in this town," said CEO Dean Broadhead.

But with the firm being independent, Broadhead can be flexible about spending, he said. A lot of the firm's current work has been centered around organic social media, content that isn't paid to be promoted, with a focus on empathetic messages or support sometimes not selling a product at all. For example, Broadhead produced a child-friendly puppet show broadcast a couple weeks ago via Facebook Live for children's juice company Good2Grow.

A lot of brands have stepped up positive messaging thanking their workers in the field and first responders and portraying how their companies are helping consumers, said Mike Caguin, chief creative officer for Minneapolis agency Colle McVoy.

"Brands have tried to lead with empathy and meet people where they are at emotionally," Caguin said. He added later, "The actions are really what speaks louder than words."

Marketers have improvised as they worked remotely. A lot of the new creative ad work has been a mashup of text-based messages, illustrations, pre-existing imagery and user-generated content. Colle McVoy had to help clients, especially those in the hospitality industry like skiing destination Jackson Hole, Wyo., do an about-face on their ad campaigns.

"It's a hard time for advertisers," said Sarah Kemp, public relations chairwoman of the Advertising Federation of Minnesota (AdFed).

A diversification of clients and industries is what will help agencies survive the crisis, said AdFed President Michelle Benson. AdFed, which is known for its networking events, has transitioned to hosting events digitally.

"Those relationships really mean something in advertising and media," Kemp said.

Patrick Hunt, head of local agency Hunt Adkins, said the messaging of ads will continue to evolve. Hunt Adkins recently completed a social media video for client Great Clips on #stayhomehair. Ad messaging has already gone from COVID-19 safety guidelines and reassurances to customers and workers to the "we are in this together," mentality, Hunt said.

"It will start evolving to let's get back to the new normal," Hunt said.

Sue Kruskopf, of Kruskopf and Co., said in some ways the crisis provides an opportunity to reach engaged consumers with less distractions.

"Consumers are sitting in front of screens more than ever before," she said.

Especially in an election year, advertisers are going to eventually have to get back in the game, said Colle McVoy CEO Christine Fruechte.

"I think most marketers know that now is not the time to be silent. … People are going to continue to communicate in new and different ways and brands are going to need to be ready."

Twitter: @nicolenorfleet