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When Is the Right Time To Speak Out? (A Publicist’s Perspective)

With the constant bombardment of one societal issue after another dominating our newsfeeds, knowing when to stay something (and how) can be a challenge. Here's some food for thought from a PR professional.

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Determining when is the right time to speak out on current events from both the perspective of your business or your personal brand is a challenging task for anyone. (And yes, everyone has a personal brand, it’s just a matter of whether you are telling its story or letting other people do it.) I am a marketing and PR consultant and yet still this conundrum is something I also have grappled with the past couple of months. 

The traditional publicist may say “Oh heck no! Keep your mouth shut on touchy subjects,” or “Avoid commenting on any political issues. That is for offline, not company messaging.” 

I’ll admit, these are things I have said in the past to clients. Yet still, as the pandemic and social issues began to dominate our media channels, I sat back and found myself a little lost. I’ve been torn between my personal beliefs and professional experience. 

So what did I do that led me to the advice I’ll give you today? 

I listened. I researched. I listened some more. I researched some more and here’s what it all came down to:

Speak out when you have something of quality to say.

To anyone who has been a client of DCM Communications, you’ve heard this quite a lot. This is actually my stance on everything marketing related from how often you should write a blog post, what to post on social media, or how frequently to email your list. 

Yes we have a lot of channels to reach out to our audiences, but that should not be an excuse to clog their social feeds or inboxes with constant chatter from us as professionals or friends. 

It’s about getting the right message to the right person at the right time. 

That sage marketing statement couldn’t be more true than it is now when we are living the majority of our lives and social interactions online rather than in person. While this is highly frustrating to many of us, introverts and extroverts alike, it’s also a huge opportunity. 

Because people are spending more time online, you have a captive audience to reach out to and connect with. The key is how you’re going to connect with them.

Let’s talk about the business perspective first:

Q: Should you utilize your business platforms to comment on current events or social issues?

A: Yes. 

No matter which side of any coin you fall on, I do think it’s important for you to convey where your business stands on the most important topics that are affecting our society today. This is how you build brand loyalty. (More of my thoughts on how to do that are here.)

As consumers, our buying journey has changed. Even more so now we are looking to support the businesses whose values align with ours.

So you can either speak out and attract your true ideal client, and probably some new ones, or you can stay silent and let your competition who has chosen to speak out potentially garner business away from you. 

That’s not to say that speaking out doesn’t come with some risk. You may lose some clients in the process. In fact, it’s highly possible that by making your stance known, there will be people who realize that their personal values do not align with your business anymore. And that is OK. 

You do not need to have everyone as your client/customer, you just need to have the right ones and make sure that they are loyal. This will help you do that.

Now let’s talk about the personal perspective:

I’ve always been one to shy away from strong political statements on my social media. I prefer to have these conversations off-line where they can usually be more productive and, in my experience, spur greater change because it’s easier to have a proper dialogue. That being said, I’ve spent the past couple of months doing a lot of listening, social listening in particular. 

Now social listening is not something that’s a new concept. In fact, something good marketers regularly do on a daily basis. However, I wanted to see where online conversations have been going and how they have changed since the beginning of the pandemic.

Here are my observations:

1. The tone has shifted from spirited debate to lots of anger. In some cases it is what’s considered righteous anger, but it is still anger nonetheless. Whether you’re coming from the right, the left, or somewhere in the middle, bullying is not OK. Even if you feel like you were standing on the right side of history, bullying is not the answer.

2. Your connections are paying attention. Nearly every social platform has seen a spike in engagement since March. We literally all have the microphone, but we need to be more responsible about when and how we use it. Just because you can share something on social media doesn’t mean you should. Again, this is now true more than ever.

3. You can be the one to control your personal brand or you can let someone else do it. Because that is the plain fact of how it’s being done.  Think about it like this: 

When someone introduces you to a person they know, what are the few characteristics or points of reference they use when they do so? Those are elements of your personal brand as they understand them. Now, if you do not like those points of reference, and you have the opportunity to clean up your personal brand and drive the narrative the way you want it to be received.

Either you make your position clear where you stand, kind of like Alexander Hamilton (Yes I’m jumping on the Hamilton train here. Go with it), or you can be more like Aaron Burr and “don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for” and well, we know how that worked out for him. 

Yes Hamilton was a controversial influencer, but he was an influencer nonetheless.  I don’t bring him up for the point of starting a political discussion, but the PR lesson from this is that people knew where he stood on the issues they could either more closely align themselves with him or walk the other way and find someone else whose values aligned with their own. 

This principle holds true as we choose friends, colleagues, and the businesses we want to work with.

So here’s my advice to you: 

Stand up for what you believe in (nicely!), make your personal and business values clearly known, and you will attract your brand advocates and ambassadors. 

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