As blue and yellow are sprinkled across social media and in public and private spaces around the world, many seek to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people as Russia’s incursion into this sovereign nation is destroying lives and property daily. The U.S., Europe, and NATO allies, along with a majority of the world’s countries, have voted to rebuke Russia at the United Nations and to enact strong sanctions designed to cripple the Russian economy and government. Access to off-shore money has been severely restricted as the international community seeks to weaken Russian President Vladmir Putin, to reduce his motivation to continue this war and to dissuade him from expanding his military grab into other nations.
Enter the private sector. Numerous companies based in the U.S., Europe, and beyond have ceased operations in Russia. Many pulled their employees as Russian tanks began rolling into Ukraine, while large numbers have ended distribution of Russian-made products in solidarity with Ukraine or for practical, logistical reasons (or both).
You Can’t Hide Russian Ties
Unlike other conflicts around the world, the U.S. and European governments, as well as their citizens, support a halt to commerce with Russia. Global and corporate leaders and the public at large recoil at images of 24/7 bombings of civilians and property, of frightened women and children escaping with barely the clothes on their backs. Given Putin’s incursion into Europe’s Eastern flank, companies that do business in the region have been anxious to send an unambiguous message that they vehemently oppose Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
Dozens and likely hundreds of prominent companies and brands – from financial services and technology to household goods and food – have withdrawn from Russia. Some companies have put their operations on hold or have very publicly initiated closures, widely promoting solidarity with the Ukrainian people and denouncing Russia’s actions. They do this knowing full well that their revenue and profits may well decline for the indefinite future.
Effectively Communicating on Corporate Ukraine Actions
Global and regional brands have a powerful opportunity to back up their values with action and to communicate their principles more widely – within the U.S., to global markets, and even within countries accepting refugees. Here are a few suggestions on how to do so with maximum impact.
Advocate for the safety and security of the Ukrainian people. The public is horrified by the relentless images of Ukrainian men, women and children being murdered, and neighborhoods being destroyed by Russian soldiers. The American public is watching closely, and the movement to align with this cause has created a social media tsunami, even on LinkedIn, a platform typically preserved for purely business contacts. A word of caution: it is important to not appear opportunistic or to get too clever in order to ensure that the brand’s concern comes across as authentic and sincere.
Be honest. Some companies stalled or ended operations because they could not protect their employees during the conflict; others due to concerns over cyber threats or military interruption of their operations. C-Suites feared that this could happen elsewhere, so their swift departure helped signal that they will not do business with governments willing to launch attacks on their sovereign neighbors. But exaggerated or inflated pronouncements can cause significant reputational harm if customers and the public find a gap between communications and action.
Manage expectations about Ukraine. In terms of your brand or company’s intention and support of Ukraine, what conditions might cause you to change course? Be clear about how deep and far your support for the besieged Ukrainians goes. How will you support those remaining in Ukraine during the war – in conflict zones and areas not yet under attack? What will you do to help Ukrainian refugees, and what are you willing to do to help rebuild Ukraine once the bombing stops?
Manage expectations about Russia. How assertively is your business prepared to oppose Russia and President Putin’s behavior, the Russian government’s support for the war and the isolation of the country’s economy?
Determine how a position on this conflict fits into your “Purpose” agenda. If your company or brand has staked out a commitment to doing good or contributing to the world beyond delivering a product or service, then you need to quickly assess how the Ukrainian conflict fits into that paradigm. Determine if you are taking a geopolitical stand, a stand against aggression toward an independent nation, advocating to strengthen NATO or the U.S.-European alliance, sending your resources to address the humanitarian needs unfolding across Europe, or simply being practical about short-term market access.
Unfortunately, the Ukrainian situation is intensifying before our eyes, and companies are finding it impossible to stay silent in the face of international, humanitarian and consumer concerns. There are many ways to approach a brand’s stance on this conflict; all the more reason that companies need to make an informed and deliberate decision and to support it with relevant action.
Ivy Cohen Corporate Communications helps companies build reputations and differentiate in a competitive market through thought leadership, public education, issues management, content strategy, and strategic communications.
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