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January 14, 2021 // Lindsay Hyman // Opinion  //       //  Opinion

Communications Considerations During Unprecedented Moments in Time  

I think we can all agree, it’s been a week. But the week (or weeks?) ahead appears just as daunting.  

As marketing communicators, we’ve become used to the constantly changing news landscape of the past 10 months. And just when we think we have a handle on what’s next, we’re thrown another curveball. Last week was one for the history books.   

Ahead of the U.S. election on Nov. 3, we worked with our clients to modify marketing communications plans well into Q1-2021, as we anticipated the news cycle surrounding the transition of power would continue through – and likely beyond – Inauguration Day. But the riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan6 drastically shifted the urgency and dominance of the conversations. That, on top of a global pandemic, isolation and mental health concerns, a reckoning with racial injustice, and now a second presidential impeachment, to name a few.  

How can companies cope from a marketing communications perspective when events happen so quickly and likely will evolve rapidly over the next couple of weeks?  

Below are a few considerations as you chart your company’s path forward through this turbulent time. And if you need some help, get in touch with us at info@allisonpr.com 

Should my company issue a statement?  

  • While we saw several companies, organizations and executives issue public statements condemning the violence at the U.S. Capitol and advocating for the peaceful transfer of power, that is not the appropriate course for all organizations – especially now, a week after the events.  
  • If your company plans to specifically address the events of Jan.6, we strongly suggest focusing on internal audiences and close external partners. At a very high-level, we recommend the statements focus on employees’ and partners’ well-being while addressing the company’s pro-democracy position, values and respect for others. However, you may need to consider an external statement if your company has made the decision to sever partnerships or end services with parties believed to have participated in or encouraged the events. 
  • Should similar events occur in the days leading up to and immediately following the inauguration (and yes, we realize it’s nuts we even have to say that), we recommend most companies continue to exercise caution and prioritize communications with internal audiences first. Any statement made should be supported by action, where appropriate, so we encourage companies to evaluate all aspects of the organization that may be affected – or subject to criticism – by any statement or action.  

When is it ok to resume our external marketing communications programs?  

  • If you have planned a priority announcement or launch, we suggest avoiding the week of Jan. 18 wherever possible. It will be a crowded news cycle, and your priority initiative could get completely lost in it.  

We anticipate it will be appropriate for most news announcements and launches to resume the week of Jan.25. However, we advise having a “pivot plan” at the ready in the event we see such disruptions to civil society as experienced on Jan. 6. 

What are media saying?  

  • They’re tired too. Many journalists are spread thin with their reporting duties between the social unrest, political processes and increasing COVID-19 infections and fatalities, let alone their personal lives. Of course, this is not a universal experience. But it’s important to consider this perspective as you approach any media relations program.  
  • We recommend companies prepare for scheduled interviews to be cancelled or cut short based on breaking news – especially with broadcast media. As one producer put it, newsrooms are likely to be “underwater with politics-related coverage until February.” Print and online media are in the same position. As another reporter put it, “consumers want to know what’s going on nationally,” and as a result, unrelated stories don’t get the same reporting priority.  
  • As noted above, wherever possible, we suggest limiting media relations activities that are not timely or related to the current news cycle.  

What about my social and paid influencer programs?  

  • The upcoming events, holidays and moments (Inauguration Day, MLK Day, potential protests, etc.) may not intersect with your company on a business level. However, they can potentially affect social media followers’ daily digital lives or paid influencer partners. The events also have the potential to drive increased political and social discourse that may dominate online conversations.  
  • While many brands and companies might find they can continue managing their owned channels at a fairly regular cadence, we recommend being hyper-conscious of the ever-changing national conversation during Jan. 16-20 in particular, in light of reportedly planned protests.   
  • As an easy action, we suggest cancelling all pre-scheduled posts on your shared and owned channels and those of your paid partners. We recommend only posting in real-time to avoid accidental postings that may end up appearing insensitive due to rapidly changing and breaking news. 

Lindsay Hyman is a senior vice president based in the Washington, D.C. office. She works with consumer and corporate clients across industries to build and execute Purpose programs and communicate ESG initiatives.   

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