Startseite Insights Blog Corporate communications in times of war: Fingertip feeling required

Corporate communications in times of war: Fingertip feeling required

The dramatic events in unfolding in Europe are a shock to everyone, not only within Europe but around the world. Should companies take a position on this issue and if so, how?

EDEKA was one of the first companies to make a statement pertaining to the war in the Ukraine. In doing so, they made a big mistake right away. The Hamburg comrades posted “Freiheit ist ein Lebensmittel” on their social media channels and earned widespread criticism. And not from meaningless accounts with hardly decipherable names, but from many media sources and trade media.

Frank Schroedter
18. July 2022
Crisis communication

War as a brand moment?

It’s at this point, that all the warning lights have to go on within the corporate communications world. Out of the perfectly legitimate impulse to help, some branders sprout ideas to push sales of a poorly performing product. Something like, “If you buy this product, we’ll donate 10 cents to a charity.” Economically, that may make sense. In situations like the current one, however, it is simply indecent. Because you don’t do business at the expense of others’ misery and in various cases, demise. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Actions with a promotional (ulterior) motive – such as increasing the sales of a product with a donation – provide the perfect fodder for a shitstorm and should therefore be absolutely avoided.

Here’s how to do it right

An example of how to do it better is brought to us by EDEKA’s competitor from the south. The Schwarz Group (Lidl and Kaufland, among others) sent a large donation to the Ukrainian border. The two supermarket chains Lidl and Kaufland increased their aid to 10 million euros and made a large contribution to the supply of refugees in the areas near the border. The post on Twitter and LinkedIn simply read, “Emergency aid 10 million euros for Ukraine.”

Engel & Zimmermann recommends: Defined processes are important, especially for “attitude posts,” because they protect against ill-considered statements or “snap judgments.” Regular editorial planning should also be checked for potential communication pitfalls.

Internal Communication: clear signals are essential

i. Internal communications are also very much necessary during political and economic crises. After all, the costs of the war on German companies  are already well defined after just seven days, which means there is a need for clear guidelines to be sent around internally to all employees. Each company should individually assess to what extent and how detailed internal communication to employees needs to be. This depends on the following factors, among others:

  • The importance of the Ukrainian and Russian markets to the business/possible economic impact on the company.
  • The proportion of Russian/Ukrainian partners (for example in logistics)
  • The number of Russian and/or Ukrainian employees working within the company
  • The willingness of the company to support voluntary engagement (and to release or support employees for this purpose, for example)

What can we learn from this situation and what will happen in the future?

Whether we are heading for a world divided in two, as the editor-in-chief of WirtschaftsWoche predicts, remains to be seen. But it is becoming apparent that the role of business in dealing with authoritarian regimes will become much more prominent. This applies in particular to dealings with China.

l. Those who sang the high praises in the past regarding the importance of exports, even to authoritarian states like Russia, will have a much harder time arguing the same point in the future. China puts people in re-education camps, harasses minorities, suppresses any form of free expression and holds all the reins tightly. In February, the new German government called China a “systemic rival” and demanded that it reduce its economic dependence on China. This is a clear signal to the business community and at the same time a hint for corporate communications to take a closer look at the supply chain and export business with totalitarian states and to prepare for the critical media inquiries which will surely follow.

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