Tragedy and crisis have been at the forefront as of late – and with the 21st century communication superhighway at our fingertips, it is nearly impossible to ignore current events. Just when we were seeing some light toward the end of the ‘pandemic tunnel’, a defenseless person’s life was taken away on what has become an international stage. The fallout of this, coupled with the lingering pandemic, are situations and events that the psyche does not soon forget. These are also an unfortunate reality that should not be ignored by communicators – including marketing and public relations professionals.
All too often, communicators for businesses or organizations shy away from crisis or tragedy for fear of causing controversy – or damaging the connected image or brand. The thought is by ‘going there’ one can voluntarily jump into the fray – and in so doing – deliver a negative outcome or a tarnished image.
These uncertain and troubling times are actually opportunities to acknowledge the world as it is (however dysfunctional) and to be a part of the narrative, along with simply nodding to the fact that the pink elephant is actually in the room. The strategy of effective communications should include the goal to work around – and through these difficult circumstances – accepting them as the current reality and couching communications right along with them. To do so, communicators must be willing and prepared to validate the challenges at hand, and the weight that leaders and even employees may carry because of them. That doesn’t make mention of everyday citizens whose perceptions and beliefs are also affected by the current state of things. Remain ever understanding of how different the perceptions and beliefs can be.
Communicators must strive to be creative and strategic in a quest of understanding, a sharing of resources and education, and in some cases, even a seeking of justice – but most always while walking that fine line. There are exceptions to the fine line; if an organization chooses to take a strong stands and state, ‘racism doesn’t exist here’ or ‘Company ABC does not tolerate discrimination’– those messages can in most cases be universally sent. Avoiding the nitty gritty is also a wise choice, by keeping it higher level.
Dismissing any of the many viewpoints and polarizing communications – no matter how divisive the issue is – will move the communication (and the communicator) into the fray. Stay above it – be fair, be even, but be there! The overarching goal should be to keep it human, keep it real and keep it relative, while not losing the identity or strategic communication goals of the organization represented. Yes, it is a fragile process. But the alternative is the proverbial ‘head buried in the sand’ which can cause an organization to seem ignorant, unaware or even worse, that they don’t care when so many passionately do care.
Below are some themes relating to communications during tragedy and crisis worth keeping in mind.
● Acknowledge – Inspire – Educate. Period.
● Think health and wellness first. Provide resources and information first that relate to the health, safety, and welfare of people. All people.
● Anticipate questions and answer them. If you’re thinking it or asking it, others likely are, too.
● Don’t live in a silo. When new issues are introduced, make mention of these situations, or at the very least, nod to the current circumstances. Do not ignore them.
● Be solution-focused. If there are ways you can direct people toward better outcomes, do it!
● Mix up your mediums. People can get lost in words! Pepper in graphics, videos and other images that get your points across (with minimal words).
● Keep communications consistent. Be the go-to resource by consistently publishing new and useful content (Enewsletters, social media, updates to websites, etc.).
● Relay what is most relevant. Consider what events/initiatives/campaigns you have planned and how they fit in with the current world (postpone or cancel when the optics just don’t work – but explain why and reschedule, if possible).
● Know when to stop selling. Take a step back from self-promotion and product marketing, and instead use your platforms to educate and/or show support during times of crisis. Take a break from selling! Instead, be the resource.
There are many other strategies to be mindful of, but the above are solid priorities to begin with – remember, the more you value appropriate communications during crises – the more your audience will value you.
If you’re interested in learning more or have questions about how to effectively shift your communications strategy in the wake of current events, please get in touch!