The Dangers of Silence: How To Communicate During Times of Turmoil
Updated: Feb 25
“Silence is golden.” Maybe in some situations. But in an era where society is facing a reckoning over persistent social issues, sometimes it makes sense to make your position known. Nike took aside when they made a powerful ad starring Colin Kaepernick and it was a bet that paid off. Turns out that the Nike consumer shared Kaepernick’s and Nike’s point of view. Despite a boycott, Nike the ad paid off to the tune of $6 billion in sales.
A study conducted by Ipsos MORI and TripAdvisor found that 97 percent of business owners believe that online reputation management is important. In a highly competitive marketplace, having a greater purpose, and standing for something, can help consumers identify like-minded brands and companies. Now more than ever, it seems people want to spend with companies who share the same values.
Historically, it was common for companies to stay neutral by remaining silent on hot button issues. A 2018 article published by Forbes, found that companies may actually repel their customers by being vocal about social justice, but subsequently noted that companies who remain silent may actually be taking a bigger risk.
For example, take the political unrest that occurred in the United States as the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum. As The Washington Post reports, many companies have publicly spoken out about police violence and racism after the murder of George Floyd. An article from Forbes, agrees that now is not the time to remain silent, because consumers expect corporations to be more vocal about the issues.
A study by Sprout Social found that 66 percent say it's important for brands to take a stand on social and political issues. Celebrities and media outlets now serve as watchdogs, calling out major companies and public figures who have remained silent on major social justice issues like the Black Lives Matter movement.
THE NEGATIVE IMPACT OF SILENCE
It is important to remember that remaining silent during a worldwide movement is dangerous, but it is also equally dangerous for companies or public figures to remain silent if they are experiencing their own crisis.
Take the case study of Ellen DeGeneres. The famed talk show host came under fire last summer over reported allegations that DeGeneres was complicit in creating a toxic workplace environment. Within days, others began to chime in on the controversy, adding their own experiences while working for The Ellen DeGeneres Show. This snowballed into a crisis for DeGeneres.
DeGeneres, who built a public image based on being nice and kind to others, faced severe backlash over the allegations. Initially, DeGeneres remained silent during the controversy and continued to post on her social media channels, ignoring the allegations. Her communications seemed tone-deaf. Only two weeks later did DeGeneres finally release a public apology statement, but the damage was already done. It was too little, too late.
During the controversy, The Ellen DeGeneres Show ratings took a hit. The show registered all-time low ratings after the initial allegations came out. In addition, DeGeneres also lost thousands of followers on social media.
So what could have prevented the catastrophic backlash against Ellen DeGeneres?
One important aspect to consider is the duration it took for DeGeneres to respond back against the allegations.
According to PR Week, the time it takes for a company or public figure to address a crisis can determine if it is a success or a disaster. The first hour after a crisis unfolds is referred to as the “Golden Hour,” where time is of the essence. Companies or public figures must act fast to mitigate damage.
In the case of DeGeneres, waiting two weeks to formally address the allegations only resulted prolonged public discussion of the issue. The goal in a crisis is to halt the discussion as soon as possible by addressing and resolving it, so everyone can move on.
AVOIDING SILENCE WITH SMART STRATEGY AND MEDIA TRAINING
No company or public figure is safe from experiencing a crisis, which is why many companies invest by preparing a crisis communications strategy in the event that it needs to be used. But as previously explored, many companies fail to prepare for such an event, which has led some companies to experience costly communications mistakes that have negatively affected their business.
Understanding how dangerous silence can be for companies, investing in media training can be beneficial for brands and public figures. Having a plan of action gives business leaders the confidence they need to face the crisis head-on. While some brands may come off unscathed from a crisis by remaining silent, that is not always possible. Brands can never predict the trajectory of a crisis. They escalate easily and quickly. The longer it goes unaddressed the more difficult it is to control.
This is where communications and public relations professionals, with expertise in understanding and working with media, can step in. The experts at Bulletproof work with a broad range of clients to help them articulate their positions on a variety of issues. They put decades of experience to work to develop communications strategies so that no client has to face the consequences of silence.
Most companies will eventually have to proactively address a crisis, whether it’s internal or external. Doing so requires experience in understanding who the stakeholders are and how they may react to a given message.
With media training, public relations experts ensure that all aspects and possible outcomes are thoroughly considered. They know how to tailor the message to address the issue, achieve objectives. A poor communications strategy could lead to more confusion and potentially more reputational damage.
Remaining silent or a flawed communications program can be equally damaging. Media training can ensure that companies and public figures alike can protect and uphold their reputations during times of crisis.
Bulletproof is a communications agency that provides media training services, presentation training, and effective communications strategies to help individuals and organizations achieve their objectives. The team consists of strategists, trainers, and journalists who understand the media, and how to leverage the power of public relations and communications to obtain desired goals.
Bulletproof media training is led by Tara McCarthy who is well known and highly regarded in the industry, with over 20 years of experience in leading communications strategy and award-winning programs for blue-chip clients. She is an expert in strategic communications, public relations, and media training. The Bulletproof team of veteran strategists and trainers offer individual and group training sessions for all levels, helping clients master their strategic public speaking capabilities.
Bulletproof offers free consultations. Appointments can be made by filling out the form on the website.