Combatting conflict and crisis with clear, ethical communications

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is abruptly transforming the world – from a mounting loss of human life, and a deepening humanitarian crisis as millions of people have been forced to flee their homes. International economies are suffering too, having already been impacted by a global pandemic, supply chain disruption, and rising energy prices.

Most of us want to avoid conflict and crisis, but their consequences must be faced head on. Communications need to be constant in both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ times. The sharing of information is increasingly playing a vital role in the developing conflict, supporting people adapting to its impact, and in protecting lives.

It may be tempting in challenging times to reduce company spend on communications activity in order to make cost savings. The reality is that this is when you really need to get your voice heard, help people and build relationships with stakeholders, even though there are difficulties to be faced.

Identifying risks and planning your response

This conflict, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, has shown how important it is that every business have a crisis communications plan in place. Early identification of the risks that an organisation could face means they can respond with timely and appropriate action and messaging.

For instance, growing number of brands have suspended their activities in Russia, with businesses carefully considering their ethical response and wanting to be seen to be doing the right thing. There is mounting pressure from governments, shareholders and the public for more to do the same.

It’s important to run through the ‘what if’ scenarios that may affect your business and have an organised response in place for how to manage emerging issues. Factors that can impact your operations can be internal or external and can range from extreme events such as war and disease and impacts of climate change, to new legislation, competitive developments, or changes in customer behaviour.

These political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental factors need analysis and assessment of impact, and the implications of breaking issues may necessitate changes to your business and communications strategy. Actions may include preparing statements for the media and ensuring spokespeople are available, briefing your staff and communicating with customers.

Once your plan is in place it must be reviewed regularly, to ensure that the identified ‘threats’ are still valid, or if new ones have replaced them. Companies can’t just cross their fingers and hope that a crisis won’t hit them, because if it does, the resulting impact could be devastating. Instead, it’s much better to consult with a communications specialist, and be prepared.

Tackling disinformation and building trust

Sadly, disinformation has been used as a weapon in this escalating crisis, and can be spread quickly through social media. This underlines the importance of having trusted, independent and verified information sources. So how can you spot bad information and stop it’s spread? A new Radio 4 podcast series, War on Truth, provides examples of people caught up by misinformation during this conflict, and some tips on how to spot it. Advice includes checking when and where the information was made, and who is sharing it and why.

In a foreword to the e-book ‘Communicating in a crisis: How public relations was successfully used in the pandemic,’ the CEO of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, Alastair McCapra states: “When PR is mentioned most people will probably not think of it playing a critical role in fighting misinformation, maintaining public services, helping workforces through a crisis, or supporting families at a time of anxiety and exhaustion. As the examples in this book show, it does all of these things and more.”

Trust is built by providing open, honest and ethical information. If you’d like support with bespoke crisis planning and issues management and corporate communications, please get in touch!