The terrorist attack on our nation directly impacted thousands, but
the residual affects touched many more. In the weeks ahead, the actions
of our political, civic, and business leaders will shape our nation's
destiny. Communications plays a central role, as it is the link between
our leaders and the rest of the world. But the landscape has changed
President Bush's vow that "the American economy will be open for
business" was absolutely crucial. But let's not confuse "open for
business" with business as usual.
There is a new filter through which all communications activities must
be viewed. The context has changed, as have the audiences. Perhaps the
only thing that remains the same is the foundation of all good
communications plans: understand your audience, and make your actions
relevant to its situation.
Everyone is hypersensitive about companies that look to commercialize
the tragedy, and equally so about firms that appear cold or uncaring, or
act as though nothing happened.
Effective communications now requires three key steps:
First, any communications activities a company has already planned must
be carefully reevaluated. Some plans need to be scrapped completely and
started anew. Now isn't the time to issue a release announcing "how to
put sparkle into the holiday."
Second, review the goals of your communications activities. Can the
plans be changed to meet those goals within our new national context? Is
there something that your company can do to help our nation heal? And
that something must be significant - something that your company can do
that others cannot.
Third, identify additional steps that your company can take to make a
difference. Employees need to feel safe. They need time to grieve. Do
something - anything - to help. Organize an office donation drive, group
CPR training, or even just an informal gathering so people can share
their thoughts. Companies that don't recognize the enormous emotional
impact of these events risk alienating employees, customers, and other
Additionally, let's integrate corporate benevolence and social
responsibility into ongoing activity. Let's be more active in our
communities, and maintain it once the crisis fades into memory.
There is a fine line between doing what's right and being perceived as
crass and commercial. At this crucial time, perception means even more
than reality because people are more sensitive than ever before, and
rightly so. This is a time when corporations need to act like humans -
carrying on, but not as usual.