What is the role of corporate messaging in times of crisis? When it comes to politics, staying neutral has long ruled as best practice. However, as the world continues to view almost every important issue through a political lens, that neutrality falls into question. Can an organization continue to stay silent on pressing issues without sounding tone deaf?
The answer is no. Nor should it, for three simple reasons: staying silent is counterproductive, it is out of sync with consumer, employee, and stakeholder demands, and it is lazy if not morally wrong.
For many, the amount of energy required to ignore an issue is massive. Ask anyone who has come out as LGBTQ and they will tell you, living a lie is exhausting. The truth will set you free is more than an adage. For organizations, this dynamic rings true as well.
As I type these words, hundreds of thousands of employees at corporations large and small are walking on eggshells, preoccupied with the riots, unrest, and general unease of our times. How on earth can they contribute their best work under those circumstances? Though no corporate message will solve a problem of this magnitude, acknowledging it can ease the anxiety that employees, consumers, and stakeholders carry with them.
For this particular issue, how can any organization inspire their customers or engage their employees of color, if they go about business as if “there’s nothing to see here”?
In the long term, how can organizations address the needs of their customers if they are out of touch with those customers’ entire lives? How will they produce the results that their continued prosperity requires?
It’s perhaps not impossible, but it is far more taxing and inefficient in the long run.
Out of Sync with Consumer Demands
Research shows that younger buyers of both consumer and professional goods and services prefer to do business with organizations that stand for something. Male or female, white or not, gay or straight, dog-person or cat person: people will pay more to feel better about the organizations to whom they give their money.
The same goes with the labor market. Only organizations with clearly-defined principles on display will attract and retain the best talent.
Issues are complicated, and sometimes it takes us a while to determine what is right and wrong. But when we do figure it out, doing nothing is not a choice. Once we know what is right, doing nothing is the same as doing wrong.
I do not have all the answers. I am not without culpability on any subject. However, for me, making the case for addressing crises head on in corporate messaging is a must.
What to Say
But, what to say? Does your organization have to weigh in on every important issue? Not necessarily. To decide, you have to decide if the issue is one of importance for your employees, customers, and stakeholders.
If it is a topic that’s relevant to who you are and what you do, there is no standard response for any issue. What your organization has to say must align with the reason you exist and the principles that guide you. If you’re guided by a strong brand, your message will be clear and aligned with everything else you do or say.
What is the point of capitalism? What is the point of building businesses or finding solutions to problems? What is the point, period?
Boiling down these questions to their most fundamental answer is this: The point is to create, in the limited time we’ve been given, the best possible life for ourselves and our families. How much sweeter will that life be when it’s built on a foundation of at least trying to do what we believe is right?
Times change and the best practice of staying neutral on challenging or political topics should change too.