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How to Manage Public Relations in Times of War

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The Russia-Ukraine war has gripped the world's attention, dominated media headlines and captured the concern of people worldwide. As the conflict unfolds, companies are stepping forward to express their solidarity with Ukraine through various measures, ranging from providing free housing for refugees to halting business operations in Russia. Amid these tumultuous times, public relations professionals find themselves at the forefront, advising companies on how to navigate the delicate balance between corporate engagement and genuine support for a humanitarian crisis. 

Here are key guidelines to consider when managing client queries during such challenging times.

Three Things to Consider

1. Advising Against Self-Promotion

One crucial piece of counsel for companies seeking to engage with the ongoing conflict is to fervently advise against any form of self-promotion during times of crisis. Attempting to capitalize on a war, especially for financial gain, can lead to severe backlash and reputational damage. Media scrutiny is intense, with reporters quick to identify and criticize any attempts at leveraging a humanitarian crisis for personal benefit. An insightful Buzzfeed article highlighted instances of responses to the Russia-Ukraine war being labeled as "cringe-worthy" and "insensitive," such as an author urging people to buy his book. As PR advisors, it is imperative to conduct a thorough risk-assessment exercise, outlining potential concerns and ensuring that the company's actions are aligned with ethical standards.

2. Staying in Their Lane

Encouraging clients to stay in their lane is a fundamental principle when navigating political discourse. While expressing humanitarian support for Ukraine is commendable, clients should refrain from putting a tangential spin on geopolitical matters, especially when they lack genuine expertise or insight. Proactively pitching clients to speak on issues outside their domain can reflect poorly on the brand and may be perceived as opportunistic. Instead, public relations professionals should recommend that clients avoid inserting themselves into conversations that have not sought their input, maintaining a focus on genuine and relevant contributions.

3. Establishing Standards for Cause Support

With multiple conflicts occurring globally, it's essential to discuss standards for engaging in political and social discussions with clients. The media's prioritization of certain conflicts over others is a reality, and clients should be aware of the potential consequences of their public stances. Candid conversations about the company's guidelines for participating in discussions related to human rights and political matters are crucial. Inconsistencies, such as publicly supporting one conflict while discouraging internal discussions on similar issues, may expose the company to accusations of double standards. Proactively setting guidelines and adhering to them ensures that the client's engagement is transparent and less susceptible to reputational damage.

Public Relations is Important in Conflict

The role of public relations professionals in times of war goes beyond traditional communication strategies; it involves ethical guidance and responsible engagement. By advising against self-promotion, encouraging clients to stay within their expertise and establishing clear standards for cause support, public relations professionals can help companies navigate the complex landscape of global conflicts while preserving their integrity and reputation. In an era where corporate responsibility is under constant scrutiny, thoughtful and principled engagement is paramount.

Have questions about how to handle your messaging during a conflict? Need a strategy on how to reach your audiences during unrest? Check out our PR and Communications services, and see how TASC can help.

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