Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the culmination of months of rising tension, false flag campaigns, and conflicting narratives, and now communicators have to face what the harsh realities of war could mean for their organizations. 

On Monday, February 28, 2022, at 10 a.m. ET, Page President Roger Bolton moderated an open discussion among Page and Page Up members on the implications of the crisis, how senior communications leaders should respond and the potential lasting impact of the conflict on our businesses, our teams and our world.

To inform the discussion, he was joined by:

  • Evan Kraus, President and Chief Operations Officer at APCO Worldwide;
  • Jason McMann, head of geopolitical risk analysis at Morning Consult; and 
  • Jonathan Winer, former U.S. Special Envoy for Libya; former Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Law Enforcement at the U.S. Department of State, and Senior Counselor at APCO Worldwide.

Jonathan said that there are five possible scenarios that could ensue from the conflict, though the situation is still highly uncertain: 

  • a stalemate
  • formation of a new Ukrainian government sympathetic to Russia
  • Russian annexation of a portion of Ukraine
  • Russian annexation of the entire country
  • some version of WWIII. 

Regardless of what happens next, here are seven key considerations for communicators as you navigate the crisis.

  1. It’s not the time for long-term planning. Focus on protecting your people, safeguarding your business assets and monitoring the evolving situation. Right now, the geopolitical environment is not conducive to long-term planning—in fact, even mid-term planning would be a fool’s errand. Instead, focus on your people, your assets and your assessment of the situation through the lens of its intersection with your organization’s priorities—from brand to societal value.  
  2. For this crisis, speaking well is more important than speaking first. Often, speed is a virtue, but in a complex, rapidly developing situation like this one, not all constituents are aligned—particularly for multinational organizations. Look closely at how your stakeholders are behaving and listen closely to what they are saying. It makes sense to express support for Ukraine from a humanitarian perspective. 
  3. Taking action beyond what’s required by the sanctions is a difficult question. Morning Consult has found that consumers favor action to cut business ties with Russia, at least temporarily. One salient example is BP’s costly decision to pull back from Rosneft. However, when asked what he’s advising clients, Jonathan Winer said, “The sanctions are so dynamic that it’s very dangerous to do anything right now other than be as quiet as you can reasonably be operationally.”
  4. Watch out for bias. In the Middle East, conversations are drawing a sharp line between sympathy for Ukrainians and outrage at the reaction of the West in comparison to its response to the conflicts between Palestine and Israel. 
  5. Sanctions aren’t just about restricting economic activity—they’re a signaling mechanism. They are also a tactic for undermining Putin’s regime and creating anti-war sentiment. There is more public support for sanctions, relative to other options like military action, according to Morning Consult, even if it means higher prices for consumers.
  6. Safeguard your technological infrastructure. Russia’s biggest lever to respond to sanctions is on the cyber front. The financial sector’s complicity in sanctions makes it a target. In short, get prepared for more cyber attacks.
  7. There is pain ahead. Courtesy and understanding will be the true measure of your leadership and your organization’s actions. The Ukrainian diaspora is immense and emerging as an impactful stakeholder group. Lead with empathy. Align your statements with your actions, and your actions with your purpose. 

The first half of the Page Conversation on the Corporate Impact of Russia's Invasion of Ukraine was recorded—if you’re a Page member you can review the experts' remarks here

If you have any resources you think would be valuable to other members, including either expertise you find valuable or your own company’s actions or statements, please send them to J.T. Conway.