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Mission, Messaging & Missteps

"For brands, it’s [cancel culture] still a cultural phenomenon that could easily lead to a public relations crisis and potentially hurt business. After all, 64% of consumers will buy or boycott a brand because of its position on a social or political issue, according to a 2018 Edelman study.”

Advertising Age Dec. 18, 2020

As we return to whatever the next normal will be, now is a good time to review what might need to change. Over the last 15 months our world has seen worldwide upheaval due to a global pandemic. As Americans we have experienced political, social, and racial conflict in addition to the isolation necessitated by the worldwide pandemic. In our rush to normal, it can be tempting to carry on with the same processes, procedures, and strategies you have employed since your company’s inception. But here's a newsflash: the world has changed.

Since we are doing business in a world that has changed, now is a good time to reflect on the relevance of your existing mission in this new world. Consider the challenges experienced by the following labels for example:

Aunt Jemima and The Washington Redskins found their names, logos, and images out of step in a world acknowledging long-held racist stereotypes. Executives at the now Pearl Milling Company remarked that Aunt Jemima brand's origins were "based on a racial stereotype." Regarding the renamed Washington Football Team “Owner Dan Snyder did not make the decision to transform the franchise until this summer [last year], just months before the start of the 2020 campaign. His hand was forced by outside pressure he could no longer ignore.” (

Oatly drink company is partly owned by a company that seems to be out of sync with it's mission. Oatley, states on its website: Our sole purpose as a company is to make it easy for people to turn what they eat and drink into personal moments of healthy joy without recklessly taxing the planet’s resources in the process.” Yet Blackstone Group Inc., owns a 10% share of Oakley. Blackstone also invested in the re-election campaign of former president Trump who denies the existence of global warming. (

Ellen DeGeneres experienced serious backlash as the work culture of her show was in direct contradiction to her famous signoff, “Be kind to one another.”

While you can’t plan for every time someone will question your business decisions, examining your mission and messaging in light of today’s world could provide consistency and help prevent obvious missteps. Here are some suggestions:

· Realistically evaluate your mission in light of the events of the last 15 months. Do you see any conflicts with what you are doing and current societal norms? Just because there is a conflict doesn’t mean you necessarily need to change the mission, but make sure you are comfortable with the potential consequences of running “counterculture.”

· Once you have evaluated and made any changes to the mission, communicate (or reiterate) that mission to all levels of your team. Encourage discussion, and importantly, allow members of your team to point out obvious disconnects between your mission and corporate activities or messaging. Your team is the first line of defense against an embarrassing public undressing.

· Make sure your message agrees with your mission. If, for example, your message is that we offer equitable pay for those doing the same job, but workers make less money based on their location, might that be a conflict? Are employees who choose to work from home penalized because they are less visible; are they missing out on opportunities for promotion? Do your company’s standards for performance need to be reviewed in light of today’s world? What happens if some common practices in your company become public? If that information becoming public would impact the credibility of your messaging, now is the time to get in front of it.

· If you don’t mean it, don’t say it privately or publicly. Cameras are running and mics are often live when you least expect them. Opinions that you casually share can end up as the subject of blogs, tweets, memes, or hashtags. How would your stakeholders be impacted if your opinions or actions were suddenly visible for the world to see? Could you own those thoughts and actions as yours, or would you be embarrassed to see your prejudices or fears on display?

Consider who you want to be in this new world. As you evaluate your organization's mission, assess the condition of your own heart. How are you, really, with everything that has happened globally, nationally and personally in the last year and a half? Do you need to process what is happening with a minister, therapist, or a group of friends. Your personal alignment will always be the biggest shaper of the messages you send, both inside or out of your organization.

Michele Aikens is CEO & Lead Coach of Sepia Prime Communications & Coaching. You can connect with her by e-mailing here.

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