COMPASSIONATE COMMERCE: the new filter for corporate comms

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

key audiences.

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.

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