We are all bearing witness to an extraordinary moment of activism and, hopefully, positive change in the United States. It is imperative that communications approaches adapt and incorporate this values-based thinking into media relations and thought-leadership campaigns.
Below, some tips for effectively communicating at a time when important societal issues – especially in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) and Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) – loom large.
1. Find Your Voice
The pandemic has exposed inequities, inspired activism and brought to the fore racial tensions that have been building for years. Now it is acceptable and even expected for organizations to wear their hearts on their sleeves, showcase their values and incorporate those values into their business strategy.
Companies and organizations with strong core values can more easily take the lead here, as they can incorporate that aspect of their identities into broader messaging and media relations. Ideally, core values will reflect a company’s business strategy and create a logical tie-in that employees, customers, and partners can readily understand.
For those companies that have steered clear of taking a stand, it’s critical to do soul searching now, lest they appear to bury their heads in the sand. Avoiding the difficult topics that are front-of-mind for most consumers, journalists and the business community is not an option.
2. Avoid a Disconnect
There should never be a disconnect between external and internal communications. Whatever causes or values are being embraced by the company, the CEO should be publicly expressing those values and reacting to current events as the situation warrants.
Employees, who are arguably a company’s best potential brand ambassadors, need to be reassured that the company’s publicly stated values are authentic and are practiced within the organization. These values can be manifested as employee initiatives, partnerships with carefully selected organizations, and community-relations programs that serve as a positive force for change.
The communications team should also be asking questions like these to understand the full spectrum of an organization’s commitment to the issues and to identify opportunities for storytelling:
- What public remarks have the CEO made or is planning to make that relate to the issues?
- Which organizations are the company partnering with and why?
- Is the company donating a portion of proceeds to a specific cause and how will those proceeds be used?
“Companies have a special responsibility to articulate and authentically embrace their values. And there has never been a more important time for companies to decide where they stand on key issues, promote their thought leaders and tell their stories.”
3. Broaden the Scope
Thinking about your company and its experts through the lens of issues and values may present new and additional opportunities to tell your story. For example, a product launch may have a limited audience, until you incorporate donating a portion of the sales to a worthy cause. This component could open doors to additional conversations with a broader spectrum of journalists.
Can the CEO talk about why a nonprofit partner organization or issue is so important right now? Perhaps that story will be interesting to additional outlets or journalists who might not otherwise cover the company. Generally, how does leadership embody the values being projected and can those stories be told?
Talking about a company’s values creates opportunities to tell more human stories about its leaders and employees, or to share customer success stories. Business journalists may be interested in hearing about, for instance, how a company’s commitment to a cause has resulted in higher employee retention. News of community initiatives may interest local journalists, and those stories may bubble up to national outlets looking for examples of companies that are willing to get involved.
Companies have a special responsibility to articulate and authentically embrace their values. There has never been a more important time for companies to decide where they stand on key issues, promote their thought leaders and tell their stories.