War, pandemics, social and political unrest, climate change—once dubbed as “once-in-a-generation” crises have unfortunately become commonplace. And each crisis has its own unique set of circumstances and stakeholder groups, which can create a communications minefield for PR and marketing professionals.
For those responsible for managing your company’s brand reputation and communication response, knowing how to respond, what actions to take and, sometimes more importantly, what not to do, is critical, particularly as customers, employees and client expectations now demand civic involvement from brands they do business with, and especially as it relates to humanitarian causes, moral obligations and war.
In the face of a war, like the Russian invasion of Ukraine, communications teams might feel pressure to respond quickly to the devastating impact on human life and the assault on basic freedoms, but a planned and calculated communications response is the best strategy to manage your company’s brand reputation while also communicating your support in an authentic and empathetic way.
In times of disruption, PR and marketing serve a crucial role by providing vital information to citizens, customers and clients. Below are four tips on how to prepare for and manage your communications strategy in times of chaos and uncertainty.
Understand your company’s role in relation to the disaster
In times of conflict, businesses no longer have the luxury of remaining neutral. In a globally connected world, every company must be aware of how it may contribute to the conflict dynamics.
For example, a company who does business in the impacted region has a greater responsibility than those that don’t. Factors like whether and where they have operations or personnel in the region, the ethics of their supply chain and partner network, their financing model, etc. These are all critical details and communicators must do their due diligence to understand these dynamics before consulting their strategic playbook and determining their best path forward.
Follow your crisis communication playbook
A crisis can strike when you least expect it, and you must be prepared. Waiting for a problem to occur to create your strategic playbook can result in missteps and reputational damage.
The plan should serve as a guide for how your company will respond to a variety of situations both in and out of your control with the goal of guaranteeing a quick, unified response and a consistent company message from pre-determined spokespeople across all channels.
It should also include steps to take when the crisis first emerges, the internal order of operations including who has final say and sign off on external messaging and how to evaluate the effectiveness of the response strategy.
Your playbook should account for a variety of scenarios including company-driven crisis (like a product recall, financial loss, personnel misconduct) and global crisis (like war, natural disaster), with a distinct approach to each situation.
Create trust and educate through transparent communication
Misinformation and disinformation run rampant online and in social media, and as marketing, and PR professionals we have the ability and responsibility to combat it.
At a time of upheaval, transparency should take precedent. When we’re faced with foreign threats, public health emergencies, destabilization in the markets, social unrest, potential financial instability, etc., quick, accurate information is reassuring to your stakeholder groups.
Communication that is clear, jargon-free, informational, educational and useful, like FAQs and Fact Sheets, ensures that all stakeholder groups clearly understand your company’s position on a particular topic or event.
These tools build a sense of trust with those groups, and they create a level of comfort and community.
Set your plan in motion
With your strategic playbook ready, it is time to execute the plan. Where, when and in what context your company appears is important, from ads to interviews to planned social posts to even your ad words campaign. What may be appropriate under normal circumstances may be deeply inappropriate during times of upheaval.
This is where PR, marketing, social media, and digital can work in unison to support the company’s larger goals relative to the crisis. This approach is effective when leveraging owned channels but can be even more effective when combined with earned methods of communications like a contributed article.
Working in lockstep, these functions enable a unified communications response and ensure the company’s messaging is shared in a controlled and orchestrated manner.
Being able to manage your way through a communication crisis is becoming standard operating procedure for marketing and PR professionals. But having a strategic and integrated plan in place and sticking to it can turn a crippling situation into a business growth opportunity. But be mindful to strike a delicate balance to avoid the appearance of benefitting from or taking advantage of a humanitarian tragedy for business gain.
What’s your plan? Is it up to the test?
We would love to understand how you and your team are dealing with the domestic and international tumult that is potentially impacting the success of your business.