Guatama Buddha once said, “Do not learn how to react. Learn how to respond.”
I’ve carried these words with me throughout my career, and they’ve served me well. Specifically, this sentiment is the foundation for the strategy I developed for brands and organizations to respond to what I call “national signal events”. A national signal event is an event that negatively impacts a group of people and captures the news cycle. In most cases it involves an underserved group.
Some initial questions to consider:
- Is your organization geographically located in the affected community?
- Does responding to the affected community demographic align with your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion mission? Depending on your answer, if you engage, your response should serve a community you are already connecting with.
- Brands and organizations are not newscasters, what can your organization do or say to bring value and a helping hand addressing a national signal event? (Addressing what your organization can do within its subject matter expertise is everything.)
How is this accomplished?
A response to a major event needs to be backed up by some subject matter expertise. IBM set an excellent example of this in their response to how they are addressing racial inequities in tech. Already a known issue that facial recognition disproportionally mis-categorized Blacks, IBM announced that it would no longer offer or develop facial recognition technology on June 9, 2020. Rather than offer empty words of support, they uplifted the Black community and used their position to truly make a statement – and draw a line in the sand.
Lastly, if you talk the talk, walk the walk. Brands need to offer tangible resources in their responses to major events. People are surrounded by conversations about the pandemic, race relations, the environment, and more. A recent study from Blendoor as featured in the MIT Sloan article is already showing how tech companies are falling flat on their DEI pledges. This is the last thing any company wants to face. Backing up your pledge with a strategic resource plan is key to engaging an audience. It’s tough to grab anyone’s attention without something to offer. Organizations should look within to determine what they can do to uplift a community. Examples of these resources may include educational and financial support, supplies, and free professional expertise support if applicable.
A memorable response from an organization must contain the three elements discussed above to be successful. Community engagement, subject matter expertise, and resources are the three keys to a meaningful public statement. You can have two out of three and still convey a key message, but the goal should be to have a strategy that covers on all three points. Considering how these elements work together will take your communication from a reaction to a response.
If you or your organization is interested in a walkthrough of the model and how this can be applied to your organization, please contact Abbigail Belcher to see our entire presentation.