As communications experts, it is our responsibility to keep a critical eye on what’s happening in the world and how that might impact the way our clients engage with all kinds of audiences, from employees to the media and the many in between. This duty becomes particularly critical in times of uncertainty – in the hours and days after 9/11, COVID-19, and now, the horrific war that is unfolding in Ukraine.
We’re seeing media contacts, regardless of their typical beat, pivoting to direct war coverage or exploring aspects of the war that touch on their typical areas of focus, such as technology, healthcare or energy. To help our employees and clients shape their customized communications against this backdrop, we have been publishing daily round ups of coverage and reporter preferences. Some of our recent guidance includes:
- Pitch with heightened awareness of the current dynamics – Not all pitch activity needs to slow down, but it has never been more important to have in-depth knowledge of a reporter’s recent stories and areas of particular interest. Start by checking Twitter to understand priorities and don’t be shy about asking what reporters want or need in terms of news, expert resources and story support. Even armed with this insight, media relations teams need to be sensitive when pitching thought leadership, news and customer campaigns to ensure it aligns with the current focus of the outlet and specific contact.
- Assess any war-related activity carefully – Using the conflict as a hook for some other story idea is dismissive of the severity of the situation and inappropriate. That said, 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, see this Financial Times story that V2 placed for our client Nova Credit that offered a very relevant perspective and service related to the war.
- Prepare spokespeople for questions in interviews – Regardless of the topic of any interview, it is likely journalists will ask executives about the situation in Ukraine – if they have operations or people in the region, what they are doing, etc. All spokesperson prep materials and sessions should reflect this likely line of questioning and spokespeople should be armed with approved FAQs.
- Continue, but tread carefully, on social – Most brands are continuing both organic and paid social at this time. That said, posts should generally ‘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 have a duty to help our clients push forward and recommend the best course(s) of action, brands must stand by their own brand voice and values. Some 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 extra 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/most important matter to certain audiences.
Ultimately, when it comes to navigating the current media landscape, heightened awareness, sensitivity and empathy are key. Being thoughtful and intentional in all communications—and prepared for questions regardless of the war’s direct impact on your organization—is an important aspect of being an admired brand.