- Posted by Megan Paquin
- On January 13, 2021
- crisis communications, internal communications
Just as we turned the corner on a tumultuous year, last week’s violent assault on the Capitol reminds us all there is still so much work to be done. The COVID-19 crisis, in many ways, laid bare our country’s deepest and darkest secrets. In the void of honest, clear and decisive communication, the United States has become more divided than ever. It is clear that we must collectively address these issues if we are to retain our historic democracy.
When facing an existential issue such as this, the business community must act. We often talk about brands taking a stand, and the growth of the belief-driven buyer. Now more than ever, American companies will be expected to (and must) take a stand. Over the weekend, we saw unprecedented action from some of the nation’s largest technology and social media companies to stop disinformation in its tracks. But what does taking a stand look like for the business community at-large? How should the average law firm and its clients react?
As the situation continues to evolve, we recommend readying your firm’s crisis communications plan and, in some cases, taking retroactive actions to ensure you are meeting your stakeholder’s expectations at this precarious and uncertain time.
- Resist the urge to make sweeping statements. In the wake of George Floyd’s tragic murder last summer, we saw nearly every organization and individual make public statements about their commitment to anti-racism. While their motives are to be commended, many of these statements were criticized for their perceived inauthenticity or lack of commitment and it remains to be seen whether any of these statements resulted in meaningful action. What we learned from this situation was the profound importance of listening and uplifting others who are making a difference. So now, consider whether your firm or its clients can take action in this moment. If they, like Twitter and others, can make an impact. Then the time to act is now. If not, it is your time to listen and leave space for those who can do the work to do it and to speak truth to power. If you determine it is time to make a statement, briefly address your reasoning as questions like “Why now?” are sure to surface.
- Reaffirm where you stand. Before today, your firm or company might have made political donations across parties or perhaps served a controversial client. While some of this might continue, the 2020 presidential election taught us that values-based business decisions are not a luxury. Now would be the time to review your firm’s business dealings to determine whether they are in alignment with its mission and values. If you don’t have a written mission or values, make haste. Like a conflicts check, every engagement and donation from your firm needs to be reviewed for its values impact. Think of this like an ESG analysis: What are the environmental, social and governmental impacts of this engagement? Are those aligned with your stakeholder’s expectations not only for your firm but for our society overall? No engagement is too small and no firm is above this call, especially as we consider the ramifications of last week’s events at the Capitol.
- Check in with your employees. Unlike other events in our history, most experienced the events of January 6 isolated at home. During and in the days afterward, the internet was on fire with comical out-of-office messages and many rightfully asked how their employers could expect business as usual amid the attempted take down of democracy as we know it. If you have not already, reach out to your employees to empathize with them and to reassure them. Allow employees to take time off to center themselves and offer resources for them to speak with someone if they are feeling anxious. Reminding employees about EAP programs is a small but powerful gesture that validates their feelings while demonstrating your care and concern. In the coming weeks, be sure your employees know where your firm stands on these issues and how you will address the situation – whether that is to continually monitor events, pull back on certain relationships or lean into others. Your employees are your best advocates, so keep them informed.
- Prepare to go public. As we said before, not everyone needs to make a statement. This moment is about action. While you get the house in order, work with your communications counsel to develop plans now for the moment if and when your actions may need to go public. Draft strategic communications, internal and external, for how you’ll address decisions made in your “values checks.” And take stock of what you did right and where you could improve in the moment. Did you communicate with your employees on January 6? If not, create an action plan for the future that includes internal communications for existential crises. These can include holding statements, internal emails and/or phone notifications, client alerts for office closures and other external statements. Consider the worst possible scenarios like employee involvement or injury and write a plan now while you are thinking clearly and unemotionally about these issues. This exercise will ensure you are better prepared in the future and also give you time to think about how you may react as the current situation continues to evolve.
The worst thing we can do is to allow ourselves to be caught up in the mayhem of the moment. Take a beat and look around the world that we are living in and decide now who you want to be and what you want to be remembered for. Then, create a plan for your firm to execute and enliven those ideals. Only then can you decide when it makes sense and how to take a stand.
Megan Paquin is vice president at Poston Communications and leads the crisis and litigation PR team. She has been trusted to lead communications strategies for some of the world’s most respected brands. As a communicator, Megan thrives in complex, high-stakes situations and her counsel has proven essential to bolster the reputations of her clients.