Two years ago, almost to the day, organizations began to prepare for the inevitable two-week shutdown that changed life as we knew it.

Never having had to deal with a pandemic, let alone sending everyone home to isolate with their families, pretty much everyone—from the company you bought your toilet paper from to the guy who painted your house 10 years ago—sent an email that had some version of “out of an abundance of caution” in it.

No one really knew what to do and we were all winging it. The executives running the organizations who suddenly had to figure out how to make payroll with zero income coming in—and the communicators helping them message it all, both internally and externally.

Then we added on top of a pandemic and working from home and homeschooling our kids and living in fear of dying from a virus that hadn’t yet been contained, a social justice movement, an attempted coup on our capital, and far worse climate change than anyone could have imagined. 

Everyone began to extol their values—and rightfully so. People buy from people, not brands, and it’s become even more evident in the past two years that we buy from the people we trust to represent our interests.

And today, as of this writing, Russia is still attempting to topple Ukraine and there are rumors of a nuclear war. Never before has your work as a communicator—and the organization’s stance on ESG (environmental, social, and governance)—been more important. Which is saying a lot after the past two years. Heck, since 2016 when the U.S. elected an unhinged president. 

Communicating During a War

Last week in the Spin Sucks Community, a member posted that her company has 6,000 employees and, while it’s based in the U.S., most of their development centers are in Eastern Europe. A third of their employees are based in Ukraine and another half in Russia. She said, “My colleagues are literally under attack or hiding or fleeing their cities.”

She asked what she should do to communicate with their internal and external stakeholders. She said, “I do have some holding statements about how we’re dealing with it all, and we will put a short statement for our clients on our website (something like “this is horrible but we will continue to support our clients.”).

“Other than that…I really don’t know what to do, or how to support our management PR-wise. I am not going to push any messages onto media proactively, but I just don’t have any idea of a PR strategy for the near future.”

While war is significantly worse than a pandemic, the framework we built in 2020 plays a role here: communicate what is going on, what you’re doing, and how you’re helping. In this case, she said it’s important that their clients know they are still there to support them—and are moving development centers and, in some cases, their employees, to safer places. 

Right now, that’s enough.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Many organizations have posted messages on their homepages. I especially appreciated the message from Ahrefs, which read, “As the situation in Ukraine escalates, many of us at Ahrefs are left with emotions too overwhelming to name. If you’d like to show your support or aren’t sure how to do it, we want to make it easier for you to act.

“For any amount donated to an approved charity in Ukraine, we’ll extend your subscription for double of that. Please check the list below and send proof of your payment. From all of us at Ahrefs, thank you.”

They have literally put their money where their mouths are and they’re standing up for their values by giving back to their community. 

I also saw that AirBNB is allowing you to make multiple “reservations” at Ukrainian homes, which is another way to get money to them quickly.  

These are the epitome of ESG—and exactly how companies should be behaving externally during a crisis.

Internally, the job of leadership is to be there for the team and to provide an outlet to safely discuss what is happening—and to grieve.

Your job is to make sure they’re doing that, that you’re finding ways to support your internal and external audiences, and that it’s communicated appropriately. 

Stop Buying Russian Products

I read an interview with Fiona Hill, a former official at the U.S. National Security Council specializing in Russian and European affairs. She talked about how sanctions on Russia aren’t going to be enough and that every one of us needs to take matters into our own hands.

As individuals, we can stop buying Russian products. For example, Tito’s is vodka made in Austin—and they also support rescue dogs. You don’t need Russian vodka! Besides, Tito’s is better than any Russian vodka you can buy. 

(As an aside, I saw that Stoli is re-branding to distance themselves from Russia.)

While many of us can’t afford, nor will ever buy, a Faberge egg, that’s another Russian product you can simply not buy. Other brands that may sound familiar include Kaspersky, which makes antivirus software; Bosco Sport, which produces clothing; Avtovaz, which makes the vehicle Lada; and Aeroflot, better known as Russian Airlines.

The Epitome of ESG

As organizations, if we continue to buy from Russia—from vodka and clothing to pension plans or mutual funds—we’re fueling the invasion of Ukraine.

Ordinary companies should make a decision—and our job is to help our bosses or clients make that decision. If they want to stand up for their values and they want to be good stewards of ESG, this is the way to do it. 

If your organization’s pension plans or mutual funds are invested in Russia, find a way to get them out and into someplace else. If you have executives who sit on boards of major Russian companies, recommend they resign immediately. If you’re in an office and there are office supplies made in Russia, replace them immediately. If you work from home and you find anything in your cupboards that were made in Russia, replace those, too.

Human Rights Are Prevalent In ESG

As you think about how you can help Ukraine during this time, the very best thing you can do is stop buying from and investing in Russia. If you have the ability to support Ukrainians financially, like Ahrefs and AirBNB, do that, too.

In the past two years, ESG has become even more important. As you think about the human rights piece of your social responsibility, consider how to help those who are having to flee their homes to save their lives and those of their families. 

There are so many things we have to think about as leaders—unlearning our behaviors, living the Golden Rule, building your team and yourself for multiple hot streaks, adjusting our biases, grief leadership, and ESG, particularly right now as it relates to human rights.  

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich