With the war in Ukraine continuing, Lithuanian communications expert provides guidelines for a wartime communications strategy, emphasizing accuracy, empathy, and adaptability as key concepts.
As Russia’s aggressive attack on Ukraine persists, the past week has made it more apparent than ever what profound impact informational warfare has in shaping public opinion on the invasion and pressuring entrepreneurs and companies to act.
Many businesses have made their position clear and temporarily ceased operations in Russia to demonstrate their disapproval of the invasion of Ukraine. As a result, they have had to consider the public’s perception of their position while maintaining efficient work processes — variables that are not usually looked at in times of peace.
Raminta Lilaitė-Sbalbi is a co-founder of the Lithuanian PR agency Blue Oceans PR. The agency operates both locally and internationally with clients from varying industries — including tourism, fintech, lifestyle, healthcare, govtech, to name a few — and has thus accumulated communication experience in many markets.
An expert with over 10 years of experience within the industry, Ms. Lilaitė-Sbalbi says that businesses have to navigate a problematic informational landscape during the invasion.
“The attack on Ukraine is as close to us as ever, not only in terms of location but also because modern technology makes it possible to see and feel the war as if we were at its epicenter. The role of communication is therefore becoming more and more critical, as it has to respond both to the desire to know the truth and to the emotions and feelings that come with that knowledge, which in the case of a war are by no means the easiest,“ she emphasized.
Bearing that in mind, Ms. Lilaitė-Sbalbi offers several key insights for businesses and entrepreneurs regarding wartime communication strategy.
Adaptation. It is time to forget the communication strategies and actions that have been planned so far. Businesses should review them in the light of today’s events and adapt or update them completely.
“These days, the most important thing is to express the company’s position and support by any means possible. Silence in circumstances of war can be perceived as acceptance of the situation, which is why it is essential to react quickly and adapt communication to the ever-changing conditions,” noted Ms. Lilaitė-Sbalbi.
Crisis vs Opportunity. “The pandemic has already taught many people that they can all help in various ways during a crisis, and the current events are no exception. Now is a good time for entrepreneurs to mobilize their creative energy and think about how they can contribute to helping Ukraine through visual and verbal communication,” urged the expert.
Businesses have taken an active role in supporting Ukraine through a number of initiatives. For instance, several Lithuanian creative agencies teamed up to launch a platform that unites illustrators, designers, and photographers worldwide, titled Creatives for Ukraine; AirBnB all around the world has started waving host and guest fees on Ukraine bookings and collaborating with neighboring European countries to provide long-term housing.
Also, online retailer ASOS has started donating clothing and other necessities en masse to those in need — these are just some of the examples of how every company or organization can find unique and effective solutions within the framework of its work. By effectively communicating their goals, actions, and position on the invasion, businesses can provide better assistance to those in need and provide justification to their clients.
Clarity and Accuracy. The flow of information is overwhelming at the moment, so businesses are recommended to prioritize accuracy and clarity when communicating.
The communications expert explains, “companies should leave no room for interpretation, as much of the communication online is consumed and judged quickly, meaning there is a greater risk of misunderstanding. Therefore, businesses should choose appropriate and precise words and statements that are well thought out.”
Helpful examples of such sensitive but clear and concrete communication can be humanitarian and other aid organizations — the Lithuanian Red Cross or the various chapters, such as ones in Germany or Austria, of Malteser International.
These organizations avoid the use of very long texts, exclamation marks, and capital letters, therefore filling their communication with positive statements, and addressing and clearly naming emotions and feelings (e.g. “most of us are feeling anxious, sad and uncertain at the moment.”)
Simultaneously, they use the public communication platforms to name the facts, emphasize togetherness, and create a connection with their audiences.
Empathy. Most people are now more sensitive to the information they receive. If a business is the target of negative or angry words in public, it is vital to not take them personally or get involved in conflicts.
“Businesses should keep a calm and respectful tone of communication, recognize that everyone is exposed to complex circumstances, and deal with them in their own way. Public anger and frustration are just one expression of this anxiety, which companies should not exacerbate,” stated Ms. Lilaitė-Sbalbi.
Focus on internal communication. “People are the true heart and soul of any business. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine inevitably affects employees working even in remotest countries, therefore putting a strain on their productivity, interactions with each other, and clients,” the communications expert noted.
“Therefore, entrepreneurs should pay attention to communication within the company or organization, making it clear that employees can contact a responsible person if they want to talk about what is happening. They should take time for reflection within the team, discuss challenges and address them together,” she continued.
Consistent communication about sales. Just as it is important not to remain indifferent to the current situation, it is also essential to carry on as usual but to do so with consideration and empathy. Now is not the time to actively communicate about deals and sales.
“Yet, talking about a business’s products and services while expressing support for Ukraine is one way to strike the right balance in communication. It is also worth considering donating part of the profits to Ukraine,” advised Ms. Lilaitė-Sbalbi.
How to reach international audiences. According to the expert, to form a strategy with a wide reach, businesses should communicate about the invasion using expert knowledge, experience, and best practices particular to their industry. By being mindful of which market they are looking to reach, entrepreneurs may find that insights from their locality may fill current gaps in the assistance provided by others.
“It is also important to keep up with the news concerning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as certain developments in the war may present opportunities for your company to provide assistance and support the initiatives of others,” she continued.
On the other hand, businesses can use direct contact with foreign partners to talk about the scale of the tragedy in Ukraine, call for concrete assistance, and share insights from different perspectives. Walless, a legal firm based in the Baltic states, has done so by issuing an appeal to all Russian partners about the actual situation in Ukraine. The firm shares templates for the appeal on its website.
Whatever their size, businesses can make a difference. They might contribute a portion of their income to one of the numerous organizations that support Ukraine, or they could utilize their audience to spread messages condemning Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. It is also crucial to be aware of any information they encounter and double-check it for accuracy before sharing it with the public.