Black Lives Matter. The movement began with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter in 2013 and has become a global movement towards equity, justice and breaking down systematic racism. Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen the movement come to a head around the world with protests in affirmation of Black lives.

As with many social movements and political change, companies have responded with strong statements, like Ben & Jerry’s and Netflix, while others have been less vocal. The question for many brands is whether they are running the risk in alienating customers, partners or staff if they speak up about Black Lives Matter. The truth is, they run the same risk by not speaking up.

According to Entrepreneur.com guest writer, Phill Geldart, “Those who communicate well will be able to project a vision for the future, map out a practical path forward and create understanding of the implications — all of which are imperative during ambiguous and turbulent times.”

VALUE-BASED COMMUNICATIONS

Values within an organization are important. They should help shape the corporate structure, beliefs and actions. Before companies take a position on movements, like Black Lives Matter, it is important for them to fully understand their own values. Your company values should be dictating your corporate strategy and communicated at all levels.

If your company values align with a movement, then you have a strong reason to stand with the movement and can communicate that far and wide. You do, however, need to ensure that those values are integrated and reflected at every level of the organization, from hiring practices to product offerings to company events to advertising. This is a great time to look at your Board of Directors, your C-suite team and partners to ensure your values are reflected in your corporate practices.

If aligning with a particular movement goes against your values, it may be a good time to reflect on those company values and reaffirm where your commitments actually lie within a larger context of a changing world – see Chick-a-Fil’s response after the legalization of equal marriage. Reflection is key during times of change and social movements. Once those values have been discussed, internalized and acted upon they can then be communicated externally.

When a company decides to communicate, however, it needs to be prepared for a response on both sides of the fence. Taking a stand on any issue can be divisive and will not satisfy everyone. That is exactly why your company values and their integration within your organization are what need to lead your communication strategies.

LISTENING

Social movements start conversations. As such, they provide organizations with an opportunity to listen to the needs of an evolving society and decide if the company is meeting with their needs. As part of any communication strategy, “listening” should be a key component.

You should be listening to your internal teams and communicating your position on issues in relation to your company. You should be listening to consumers because they will undoubtedly tell you what they want and expect from you and your company. These social movements will influence your brand so by listening, you can better prepare for changes that will emerge.

Listening also makes you and your company more empathetic. Social movements, like Black Lives Matter, bring up different types of emotional trauma for people of every intersectionality (age, gender, sexual preference, religion, etc.). While your company may not be able to speak to each person’s experience or trauma, listening helps you better understand how you can be much more responsive and inclusive in the future with your content, products, communications, services, advertising, etc.

AVOID THE BANDWAGON

Clients have approached us for strategic counsel on how to manoeuvre through the Black Lives Matter movement with their companies. My advice is: avoid simply jumping on the bandwagon. If you find your business’ values are aligned and you have something valuable to add to the movement, only then should you communicate your efforts.

Companies are committing financially to groups related to racial justice and police accountability, such as Black Lives Matter, NAACP and the Equal Justice Initiative. Many of these companies are not only committing to donate today but will continue to donate to these organizations in the future to ensure their work can continue over the long-run. The companies applauded for their financial contributions are also being applauded for have been focused on the needs of the Black community with policies and practices already in place help support Black excellence.

Companies who are facing backlash, however, are the ones who appear to have launched tone-deaf products (Righteous Gelato) or joined online solidarity posts despite past transgressions (Guggenheim). Despite their best intentions, consumers demand more of companies and are holding brands to a higher standard. The world is looking towards sustainable change and companies need to ensure they are committed to that at all levels.

COMMUNICATION TIPS

Here are some tips on how to best communicate during times of social unrest so it resonates with your audiences:

  1. Be authentic. As outlined above, your communication tactics need to be driven by your company values and consistent with your brand. If you have a history of siding with the values around the Black Lives Matter movement, then your company will likely be viewed as being authentic with its efforts.
  1. Show empathy. Your company has an opportunity to be empathetic towards those who may be triggered by social movements. Your empathy helps humanize your brand and win the trust of many. By showing empathy with others, it is also easier for the general public to show empathy towards you, your company and your leadership.
  1. Listen before you speak. By listening before you speak, you have an opportunity to learn. If your company’s values weren’t already aligned with those of Black Lives Matter, it could be an opportunity to decide where you want to be in terms of inclusion, diversity and justice in the future. If it wasn’t on your radar before, it should be now, and it’s okay to talk about what kind of change you will implement in the future. Remember, it’s your company values that will help drive your communication strategies.
  1. Act. In times of change, it is important to ensure companies are responding to the changing needs of consumers. If your Board of Directors has no representation, ensure that changes now and in the future. If your senior management team lacks diversity, change that structure. If your company has to adapt and change, that’s alright. Audiences will applaud the concrete steps you make towards equity and justice. What they will not applaud is your lack of action.

PR CONSULT VALUES

At PR Consult, we work with clients that provide products and services to those who are underserved and underrepresented. Our values are for collaboration, inclusivity, accountability and community in every corner of the world. PR Consult is led by a woman of colour and works with others who support diversity, justice and equality.  We believe Black Lives Matter.