Today could very well have started with an early morning crisis call that was dominated by the question, “HOW do we respond to THIS?” That call might have happened Friday afternoon…perhaps over the weekend. Some of you might be having this call right now.

In times of crisis it falls to the marketers, communications leaders and customer advocates to start to communicate, especially when that crisis feels as hurtful and impossible as the current tidal wave of emotion sweeping the United States. We have just spent the past several months working to assure (then reassure) our customers that we are “in this together” as the coronavirus spread across the globe stealing lives and wreaking havoc on economies. Now, we have a painful race conversation topped by outbreaks of violence and senseless brutality. It is starting to feel like we just can’t get a win these days.

It is understandable that we want to have a position – a statement of where our brands stand on the issues that impact our customers and our people. But in times like this, we need to stop and really think through the hard questions before saying a word.

Please let’s be clear here: I am NOT advocating for silence. In fact, I whole heartedly support any brand willing and able to take a stand in support of equality, humanity and lifting a community up. What I am offering is a bit of candor.

Making a statement and taking a stand today must be met with continuous action tomorrow and into the next days, weeks and years. Fall down on that promise…break the trust built by your statement and you will lose your customer.

Be bold. Take a stand. Just don’t walk into this lightly.

When embarking on a crisis or support statement…regardless if it is this week or the next crisis around the corner…I suggest asking yourself these honest questions:

  1. Is Your Brand an AUTHENTIC part of THIS Conversation? Now is NOT the time to test this. Your gut has already answered this question before you got to this line. Most marketers know…instantly…if they are part of the conversation or part of the distraction. If you are part of the distraction…sit this one out.
  2. What Stand Feels Right for Your Brand, Your People and Your Customers? This isn’t just about one community…one audience…it is about ALL of your audiences. This is as much about your customers as it is about the people who come to work to build your brand, your products, your promises every day. Have you taken the time to really listen and understand what is important about today's conversation in their words and in their lives? What IS at the heart of the issue for them? Is it the violence? Is it equality? Is it shouting at the top of their lungs, but never being heard? What stand and what statement will best respect and reflect what you have heard? If you don’t know…sit this one out.
  3. Can You and WILL YOU Follow Thru? Any communication you send out today will be remembered tomorrow. Case in point: The NFL released what, on paper, feels like an earnest and heartfelt statement against police brutality and disproportionate violence against the African American community. The response was swift, with words like hypocrisy and false being added to the league’s sentiment. Amazon released a similar statement denouncing the “inequitable and brutal treatment of Black people.” Hours later, responses emerged pointing to stories of protests from minority workers about working conditions. While I am confident that the words issued by the NFL and Amazon were earnest and intended to be a unifying rallying cry, they were used as opportunities to bring up history and highlight inauthentic voices and moments. Right or wrong, the NFL’s stand against players “taking a knee” in protest discounted them from being seen as an authentic participant in today’s conversation. Will your brand be able to push past any noise of the past to be part of a future conversation? Will your brand WANT to be part of any future conversations? If you don’t know…sit this one out.
  4. How Long Will You or Can You Demonstrate Your Commitment? Unlike showing support for a single cause or a single event, the current social conversation is a lengthy one. This isn’t writing a check to a charity of choice. This conversation will not go away this week, at the end of the protests or even after the next election. They will continue and be reignited with the inevitability of the “next time it happens.” And because this is a matter of when and not if the conversation reignites, will your brand be there again, reaffirming your commitment to the cause and taking an even bigger step to show support? If you don’t know…please, sit this one out.
  5. Why Do You Want to Respond? THIS is the most important question to answer...and answer honestly. Do you want to respond because everyone else has? Did your competition beat you to a statement…so it is now or never? Do you think it will keep you relevant in the conversation? Did someone tell you your GenZ customers expect you to respond? This is NOT the conversation to test out your tone of empathy. Unless your brand has an authentic voice in this conversation…unless there is both empathy and honesty interlaced with every word...this is NOT the time to experiment with social consciousness. Virtue signaling does not mean your virtue or your signal is not earnest and pure. But today’s debate and today’s customer has gotten enough chatter and has very little bandwidth for more noise. They crave authentic voices. Trust me…if you are still not sure…sit this one out.

Here is what some people might not tell you. It is 100% OK to say no…to admit you don’t really WANT to have a voice in the current events of the day. But you need to be honest about that now…not a day after a statement goes out. If you don’t want to respond…don’t. The reality of communicating in a crisis is that best intentions don’t cut it. Now, more than ever, nothing less than an authentic communication that is in line with your brand vision, direction and purpose will do. And yes...if you are in doubt...ask us. Advise is our stock in trade. And we are here to help. Just be prepared for me to tell might be best to sit this one out.