Communications Counsel for U.S. Businesses as The War in Ukraine Continues
It is our duty as communications experts to keep a close eye on world events and how they might influence the way our clients engage with all their audiences, from media to employees and everyone in between. This responsibility becomes particularly essential in times of uncertainty – in the hours and days after 9/11, the pandemic, and now, the unfathomable war in Ukraine.
In the United States—and likely in other countries—we’re seeing reporters pivot to directly cover the war or are covering aspects of the war that touch their typical beats, from technology and energy to healthcare. V2 Communications has been publishing daily round ups of coverage and reporter preferences so our team stays informed on the U.S. media landscape and can customize communications against this backdrop. Our recent guidance includes:
Tread extremely carefully on any activity related to the war – Using the war as a hook for a story idea is dismissive of the severity of the situation and inappropriate. However, there can be outlier circumstances when it is appropriate. When a company or spokesperson has a truly relevant perspective or product/service that meets a pressing need, there may be a home for that story. For example, V2 placed a story for our client Nova Credit that offered a very relevant perspective and service related to the war in the Financial Times.
Pitch with heightened awareness of the current world landscape – Pitching reporters does not have to slow down, however, it’s never been more important to get smart on reporters’ recent stories and areas of interest. Twitter is a good place to start to understand a reporter’s coverage areas. PR people shouldn’t be shy in asking reporters directly what they need in terms of news, expert resources, and story support. But even armed with this insight, PR teams must be sensitive when pitching thought leadership, news, and customer campaigns to make sure it isn’t out of touch for the outlet or specific media contact.
Prepare spokespeople for questions in media interviews – It is always possible for a reporter to ask a spokesperson about Ukraine, such as, if their company has operations or people in the country, if they’re pulling out of doing work in Russia, etc.—no matter the reason for the interview. PR people should prepare all spokespeople to be able to answer this line of questioning and spokespeople should be armed with approved FAQs.
Continue cautiously on social media – Most brands are continuing both organic and paid social. That said, posts should ‘read the room’ – not being overly playful, using emojis cautiously, avoiding paid targeting in those regions, etc. Social teams should make note of any pre-scheduled posts should they need to be taken down at a moment’s notice if the situation intensifies and guidance changes, including any activity planned for after business hours or overnight in U.S. time zones.
Align with the brand’s values and comfort levels – While we as communications consultants help our clients push forward and recommend the best course(s) of action, brands must stand by their own voice and values. Some brands will want to tread more carefully than normal given the sensitivities; others have operations or presence in Russia and/or Ukraine, and thus there may be heightened awareness. Communications strategy is best defined with this global view—including awareness that there are other conflicts and humanitarian issues happening in the world, so this may not be the only or the most important matter to certain audiences.
As with any time of uncertainty, heightened awareness, sensitivity, empathy, and trusting your gut is crucial to navigating the media landscape. Our duty as communications consultants is to be thoughtful and intentional in all we do for our clients—and prepare them for hard interview questions about the war, regardless of what industry or business affiliations it may have. Sometimes it’s the hard times that distinguish good brands from the most admired brands.
By Jean Serra, CEO of V2 Communications