Crisis Communications, Black Lives Matter, and Corporate Policy

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC

In this year of crisis upon crisis, many brands have been stumped and confused as to how to address the Black Lives Matter #BLM movement and the associated social justice issues.

The Black Lives Matter movement has created some communications challenges that are in some ways unique, but in other ways, can be addressed using the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications.

Consider these steps for addressing #BLM, and any other social or political issue in the future. Keep in mind, these suggestions are not based on how significant the issue may be, but rather on techniques for effective crisis communications.

1. Any activist movement or protest could affect your company if you are called upon to comment.

In the case of Black Lives Matter, your company or brand may have been called upon to make a statement of support.

But before you decide if you’ll say something and what that might be on this or any other social issues, we must consider Step 1 of the 5 Steps to Effective Communications, which is based on your Vulnerability Assessment. (I encourage you to watch this week’s video, where I go into more details than I will go into in this blog.)

Your Vulnerability Assessment is designed to assess situations that could affect your organization’s revenue, reputation, and brand.

Commenting on any social issue, political issue, or political figure, can have a positive or a negative effect on your organization’s revenue, reputation and brand.

Black Lives Matter is unique because a brand statement of support pleased some, while angered others. Sometimes the words of support even angered members of the #BLM moment, if not done to their standards.

For example, unique to this situation, some brands that voiced support were criticized because their support was not accompanied by tangible action. Watch the video for tangible examples.

2. Your Vulnerability Assessment has the ability to identify a situation that can actually lead to corporate policy, which will also shape your future response and behavior.

You should have a frank discussion and establish policy about whether your brand does or does not comment on social issues, political issues, or candidates. If your brand’s position is that you never comment on such issues, when asked to do so, you need to have a statement ready that explains your corporate policy.

If you do speak in favor of an issue, policy or candidate, be ready for how it affects your brand. Home Depot reportedly has a policy not to comment or support, but reportedly their co-founder donates heavily to a presidential candidate, causing shoppers to go to Lowes if they don’t like the supported candidate.

Goya Foods is facing a boycott after its CEO praised the President at a White House Event.

3. Also, consider whether action by your brand is part of your corporate policy.

At the height of the #BLM protests, many protesters criticized brands that offered verbal support, asking, “So what are you going to do about it?”

Some organizations have taken the pro-active step of establishing various funds for various causes, such as social justice, women’s issues, LGBTQ issues, and more. Additionally, they establish committees of employees who have a say in how, when, and to whom the funds are given.

In conclusion, let me make two points. First, I’m not telling you which approach is best for your brand. That needs to be decided based on your Vulnerability Assessment. Secondly, throughout your career, you will face many watershed moments and face many significant issues. As a brand, you should never be surprised and you should always be prepared.

To have a confidential conversation or to schedule a Virtual Vulnerability Assessment, please use this link.

Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”

More crisis communications articles:

Covid-19 Crisis Communications Webinar Recording

The Biggest Lie in Crisis Communications

4 Steps Every Company Needs to Take in Order to Avoid the Default Spokesperson

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