By Angela Howarth, EACD Board member until June 2022.

The European Association of Communications Directors (EACD), brings comms professional together from across the continent to connect and share best practice.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine continuing, many of my colleagues within the EACD community are facing, yet again, unprecedented challenges.

To support our members to voice and unearth some of the local challenges they are now presented with, we held a special conversation about how communicators are dealing with the dilemmas that the invasion of Ukraine presents.

Here are my three take-aways:
1. Getting the balance right
We need to find the right balance between delivering business as usual, and getting on with the day job, as well as acknowledging or responding to the situation.  Many companies have openly come out in support of Ukraine. Others have operations in Ukraine or Russia and are sensitive to local employees and those across the world.  As we learnt from the pandemic, it is essential for communicators to be flexible and responsive during unprecedented times.  Some leaders are looking for ways to mobilise their local communities to provide practical help and to educate those who are geographically removed from the situation.  Others are changing their plans entirely. For example, a team in Philippines were celebrating international women’s day whereas for eastern European teams this campaign was no longer a priority.  It’s all about responding and reacting in a way that makes most sense locally – local teams have the knowledge to make the call on whether to go ahead with planned campaigns.

2. Listening and being a reliable source of information
Many members said their employees across Europe were feeling powerless and are looking for ways to help, others talked about how their communications functions are supporting this need.  Employees had feedback that they welcomed clear guidance on how they can do their bit and, for the directors of international organisations, conversations with local country managers and crisis teams had been a reliable source of information.  Getting the language right in any communications is crucial, especially as the situation is escalating and developing.  As ever, listening skills are paramount and listening can be done in many ways.  One example of internal comms mentioned came from a global company. It is keeping communications focused on Europe to educate US colleagues and create a respectful workplace where staff feel empowered to have safe conversations.

3. Storytelling combined with safeguarding
There are many shocking and distressing stories in the media about the situation in Ukraine and the challenging journeys millions have already taken on foot with only a small bag of possessions.  It’s important for communicators to share experiences and connect with stakeholders but communicators must shine a light on the truth without compromising or exploiting individuals.  It’s also important not to make assumptions or pre-empt situations. One member shared that the media arrived at the Ukrainian border with Poland looking for a refugee camp but couldn’t find – the Polish people had already welcomed the Ukrainians into their homes with help from organised groups such as the Red Cross.  Storytelling is what communicators do best and the stories that focus on the kindness of people are ones we can all hold onto right now.