Plunging into a crisis, whether reputational or widespread like a pandemic, is always scary. They push us outside our comfort zones and into a frightening new realm.
But if we just keep pushing past the fear, said Jano Cabrera, chief communications officer at General Mills, we find ourselves in the areas that lead us to new learnings and growth.
“As a professional, steering that ship in that direction is so much better for you,” Cabrera said during his keynote session, “Emerging from Emergency: Navigating Social Brand Crises,” at Ragan and PR Daily’s Social Media Conference.
Cabrera knows a bit about crises, having traveled to Iraq as a democratic advisor and working in the White House, in addition to stints with huge brands like McDonald’s and his current role at General Mills.
In his fireside chat, Cabrera discussed what’s changed in the world of crisis communications and social media, as well as what will never change.
What remains the same
Our world is fractured, Cabrera said. The effects of the pandemic and unrest over racist policing split our world wide open and changed life as we knew it, from what we can buy to how we shop to how we interact with one another to how we consume media. Everything has changed, and much of it will likely never change back.
But even amidst this intense upheaval, the one constant is emotion; how we feel. Cabrera pointed out that in a hundred years, Pixar movies will still make people cry (his personal favorite is “Toy Story 2,” always a tearjerker). How humans respond to emotion changes very, very slowly.
As communicators, if we focus on the emotion behind the messages and brands we work on, we’ll always find success, even as the world around us shifts.
Work to keep that emotion front and center — and try to keep legal from co-opting your statements whenever possible.
“What hasn’t changed is head and heart. That system. And in a crisis, that matters the most. You can tell when legal is involved in a statement you’ve had to put out. It is your job to stand up.”
‘Grace follows grace’
Certainly we’ve all known our fair share of stress and strain over the last few years. From sweeping macro crises to smaller, more brand-focused issues, we’ve all had to keep moving forward in difficult circumstances.
But those who can push through that fear ring can lead the way to a healthier viewpoint that can serve as a light for those struggling.
“In a time of stress and strain, no one is at their best, but grace follows grace,” Cabrera said.
The same applies when you’re writing a statement for one of the myriad disasters that seem to strike every day. Rather than offering yet another trite “thoughts and prayers” statement, try creating a statement with grace and authenticity that pushes beyond the basic and into something more meaningful, Cabrera advised.
It’s a team
So often, Cabrera pointed out, we talk about what “the social media team” or a “social media professional” can do. But, we need a cross-disciplinary squad that can lift each other up, from PR to marketing to customer care to SEO to yes, social media. They all need to be working together and cheerleading one another.
For an example of what this teamwork can do, he points to the champion 2019 World Cup Champion U.S. Women’s Soccer team. Whenever they spoke, they were always talking about not themselves, but their teammates and how incredible the other efforts were.
Because just as you can’t win a soccer game without your squad, you can’t have a successful social media strategy going solo.
Lead with grace, follow the emotion and push past the fear.