On Working in Communications During a Global Crisis

Once again, I found myself in a team meeting discussing sales numbers and campaign updates and email strategy when all I could think about was a constant stream of news updates from Ukraine.

I woke up to a New York Times alert on my phone announcing that the U.S. was banning the import of Russian oil, I spent my lunch break watching MSNBC clips of people in bunkers after fleeing their homes, I stayed up too late reading article after article on what this all could mean for everyone involved.

[Read more: Where does branded content fit into a media landscape dominated COVID-19?]

I’ll be the one to say what most of us are thinking — our jobs in communications feel a little like small potatoes in the grand scheme of it all, right? The pandemic, an election fraught with bad faith actors, an attack on our nation’s capitol, the murder of George Floyd miles from my home — it’s been non-stop crisis for the past few years and what was once “unprecedented” just seems like it’s the actual precedent, if you know what I mean.

[Read more: Navigating the 2022 Olympics from a Marketer’s Perspective]

Daily life has and always will continue, though, and while we absolutely should stop to take a deep breath (or ten) as often as we need, there are ways to adjust and refocus as you sit down at your desk for the day. My team and I have charted out actions that will help us focus on the right things, all while maintaining sanity. Here’s what we came up with:

What can marketers and communications professionals do?

1. Offer help, not promos

At the start of the pandemic, I found myself struggling with messaging. People were losing their family members, their homes, their jobs, and I was trying to draft emails about guaranteed media placements. I worked with my team to decide what our direction should be, as well as how Brandpoint fit into the new lives we all found ourselves in.

Our client-facing teams had the great mindset of reaching out to offer help to our current partners, not to push them to spend more or pressure them to make decisions, but just offering themselves up as a peer to say, “We’re here to help you figure this out.”

If you have a direct link to your customers or brand’s clients, take a step back and think of how your company can help make their lives truly easier during a global crisis, whether it’s working through a new budget or adapting to their changing business priorities. Chances are that they’re trying to figure out how their brand fits into everything as well.

[Read more: Learn how you can exercise brand empathy!]

2. Monitor your current communications plans

Did you see the drama surrounding the Applebee’s ad spot on CNN during live coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine? This is a pretty clear-cut lesson to immediately review all outgoing external content, including social posts, email sends or ad placements. Take a quick audit of what’s on the docket and adjust as needed. Do you need to push through a more timely and topical news release? Do you need to move dollars around or completely pause some campaigns? I recommend discussing this with your full team as soon as you can.

3. What’s your corporate social responsibility?

Marketers and PR professionals should work with their HR and corporate communications teams to decide what actions can be taken that fit into your company’s corporate social responsibility mission. For example, at Brandpoint, our HR department sent out an email to our staff providing education on the crisis in Ukraine, as well as different places to donate (including information on our company’s 4:1 charity match program). As our brand manager of content, I reviewed the messaging to make sure it was in line with our values.

Something I found really interesting was this article from Marketing Dive, “Ukraine war tests whether marketers can address crisis meaningfully.” People surveyed by Gartner said that they wanted brands to take action (such as cutting ties with operations in Russia or Russian business partners), but not nearly as many surveyed said that they wanted communications professionals to make statements or pull back on marketing activity.

“It’s tricky, because you’ve got to be able to tell people about the things you’re doing at a time when they say that they want you to do those things more than they want you to talk about those things,” said Katie Muhl, vice president analyst at Gartner.

This article really articulates the tightrope that communications professionals and marketers need to walk through all of this, avoiding missteps that can make you look tone-deaf and self-centered, but not giving off the impression that your company’s staff isn’t affected by the news or that you’re trying to take advantage of the crisis for business gain.

[Read More: Creating a Trustworthy Business – Informed by the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer]

4. Check in on each other

Send an email to your department or add the issue to an upcoming meeting. Slack your coworker to see if they’re doing okay or be fully transparent when you need to take a mental health breather. Connecting with others in your company on a human level can be an important way to remind each other that you’re all processing through this in your own way and to get a baseline read on your team’s health. You know what’s best and most appropriate for your specific organizations, but if we’ve learned anything during the pandemic it’s that we don’t get very far if we don’t check in on each other when necessary.

How marketers and PR agencies are responding to the crisis in Ukraine

From LinkedIn adding their Ukraine: Latest News page as a permanent link on users’ notifications pages to many other social platforms banning or limiting Russian state-owned media, there are many concrete examples of how brands are responding and how it’s affecting their user experience online.

Executives of major retail companies are also making public statements, whether it’s to acknowledge the crisis or to announce their philanthropic efforts to support Ukraine.

And in this article from PR Week, global PR agencies were asked how the war in Ukraine has impacted their business, what they’re doing to help staff that work in the affected areas and if they’re pulling back on work with Russia-based organizations. Many answered that they have issued internal memos, focused on corporate communications tactics, pledged donations to related organizations, and above all else, checked in on the safety of any of their employees and partners affected by the invasion.

Remember that we’re all figuring it out as we go

Work and life and news have become so much more intertwined than ever thanks to flexible hybrid plans where your job is in your home and people can pull up a war coverage livestream on their phones on command. It’s so easy to feel isolated in your home office, letting your mind race about the world while you fire off another meeting invite for a brainstorming session, pretending that everything is normal.

My biggest piece of advice is remembering that you aren’t alone in this, and that’s the “normal” part of it all.

We’re all going through this day by day, trying to figure out how we fit into it. Helping your team is one of the most powerful things you can do during a time like this — meeting each other where we’re at mentally and working together to share the load and make the best choices we have available — as well as doing what’s in your control to help your customers and clients you work with on a regular basis.

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