How companies can find their authentic voice amid crisis

Finding your authentic company voice can take time. Here’s how to refine yours.

Find authenticity in crisis

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Kristi Knight is the Chief Marketing Officer at InMoment.

A few short years ago, sending a corporate communication to our employees about personal and political issues such as women’s reproductive rights, gun control, police violence, or other culturally and emotionally charged topics felt taboo. Now, it’s not only normal — it’s expected.

The workforce is changing. It’s younger and more vocal, less likely to form a divide between personal and work lives. While previous generations left their personal lives at home when they went to work, this generation doesn’t even leave home to go to work.

With this sea change, companies must adapt to meet the expectations of this emerging talent pool. Whether we like it or not, cancel culture is real, with companies at equal risk of being criticized for speaking up or staying quiet.

Finding your authentic company voice can take time. Here’s what we’ve learned while refining ours.

3 types of internal communications

At InMoment, we think of internal communications in three buckets: Crisis, Contextual, and Continuous.

Most companies should be good at continuous communication, but some are not.  Types of continuous communications include regular and expected company-wide announcements such as organizational changes and strategy updates. Transparency and consistency are the most important things to get right here.

The next type is contextual, which falls somewhere between continual and crisis. These ad-hoc communications acknowledge ongoing cultural occurrences impacting employees’ physical and mental well-being. Contextual topics are typically not polarizing — mental health awareness, workplace equality, and relief support for natural disasters are a couple of examples. These communications should be timely and let your employees know what you’re doing to meet the challenge.

Finally comes the most nuanced: crisis, which is similar to contextual but requires an immediate response. Examples include Roe v Wade Supreme Court ruling, the murder of George Floyd, the Uvalde school shooting, the war in Ukraine, and the COVID pandemic. These communications are the most challenging because they need to go out quickly (ideally within 24 hours) and pose the most significant risk of polarization. They may also require an ongoing cadence of communications to be most effective.

Diversity of perspectives defines us

Our global workforce holds ideologies ranging from “conservative” to “progressive” and every nuance in between. It’s what makes us diverse, inclusive, and dynamic.

It also makes it critical for us, and other companies, to focus on highly thoughtful internal communications. You’re right to be concerned about facing backlash from employees (and potential customers and the public) for being too bold in your statements — or not bold enough.

Whether your company has 10,000 employees or only ten, your voice will never represent the views and desires of everyone — nor is that the point. Your messages should represent the publicly stated values of the company. Don’t become paralyzed trying to craft a message that will please everyone, or worse, deliver a message that is off-brand and inauthentic.

Many companies are learning that criticism is unavoidable.

The purpose of your communication should not be to appease everyone. Of course, you don’t want to offend people. But if you deliver your message in an authentic and empathetic way, hopefully, even those who disagree will respect the thoughtfulness that went into it.

Be prepared to respond

Don’t get caught trying to devise a crisis communications strategy after a crisis occurs. Instead, work with your executive team immediately to answer the following questions if you haven’t already:

  1. What are our brand values, and how do we want them to show up in light of a crisis?
  2. How do our values inform our approach to issues that affect our employees and customers?
  3. What is our brand persona?
  4. Does our persona differ between our internal messaging and our public image?

If you’ve created a place of trust, safety and respect, your team will discuss issues openly, knowing that differing views are encouraged and welcomed. The outcomes of these discussions will inform your crisis communications strategy, including the response’s tone, voice, and strength.

Crisis communications are a team sport

Now that you have a strategy, you need to build a team to stay on top of current events, coordinate in real-time, and draft culturally sensitive and inclusive communications for company leadership to review and distribute. Engage your communications experts from marketing, your employee experts from HR, and a handful of respected and trusted global “culture-builders” to represent the diverse views across your company.

When a crisis occurs, the team should work asynchronously over several hours to craft a message and send it to their executive contact for review. The review and subsequent revisions must happen within a specified time period. If you wait 48 hours, you may have missed the best window to communicate your authentic message, and to your employees.The silence could be deafening.

At InMoment, our crisis communications are primarily distributed from our CEO, but our regional and HR leaders are secondary messengers depending on the geography and other specifics of the crisis.

External crisis communications

Too often, people view external and internal communications as independent of each other. This is an archaic view. We live in a world where information is immediate and social posts go viral in seconds. You’ll know you’ve delivered a message that resonates with your workforce when your internal communication organically becomes external communication.

If you craft an authentic, inclusive, empathetic, and respectful message, your employees will naturally want to promote your response. It will make them proud.

In other words, having your internal statement become external — while staying true to your voice — should be an unofficial goal.

While everyone hopes they won’t need to implement their crisis communications strategy often, we have learned over the past couple of years that these events are unfortunately inevitable. It’s better to have a plan and not need it than to scramble to create a plan amid a crisis. Each message we craft allows us better to find our company’s voice — and our own.

Remember, your employees are human beings with complex and complicated lives outside of work. If you respond with empathy and err on the side of inclusivity, you can’t go wrong.



One Response to “How companies can find their authentic voice amid crisis”

    Ronald N Levy says:

    The writer of this report is a lot brighter than I am as certainly is the exec editor of this newsletter, and if I don’t understand something after reading it twice, I move on. So some of this didn’t sink in with me like “brand persona” and the “three buckets” and more. But if you face a crisis:

    .1. Your company has probably been accused of something, commonly endangering the public, making too much money off the public or being unfair to the public.

    .2. Whatever brand persona and those other terms mean, don’t look for salvation from the idea that “our global workforce holds ideologies ranging from ‘conservative’ to ‘progressive’ and every nuance in between. It’s what makes us diverse, inclusive and dynamic.” (We’re inclusive and dynamic? Is that like having a brand persona?)

    .3. A common problem in a PR crisis is that at least a tiny part of the accusation against us may be true, and maybe more than a tiny part because human beings are not perfect and can make mistakes.

    .4. We may be “at equal risk of being criticized for speaking up or staying quiet” but the idea that we have a right to remain silent is baloney. Silence can seem like an admission of guilt and cause a departure of customers, loss of PR jobs (and even the CEO’s job) for inaction, and Washington action to punish us and prevent us from “doing it again,” whatever we allegedly did (perhaps inconsistently with our brand persona).

    .5. Our response should be, and soon as possible we should get ready with facts to support this, that the TRUTH is we PROTECT the public against danger, we SAVE the public money, and we’re intensely eager to do even more although no one can always score 100%.

    Seriously, many of the ideas in this report are not only understandable but very advanced and excellent. PR Daily is certainly helping us to protect our companies and our jobs by preparing us with these ideas to look ahead.

    Also we may sound smarter in meetings with our bosses if we look up the terms now so we know what “brand persona” and “three buckets” mean.

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