PR Strategies in Corporate Conflicts During Wartime

Authors
Justin Esiobu
Justin Esiobu Project Manager
Kostiantyn Gridin
Kostiantyn Gridin Partner

Imagine: a moderately famous People’s Deputy of Ukraine is delaying a delivery of one and a half thousand tons of corn using an agribusiness under his control. This delivery was intended for your large bioethanol production enterprise, and this delay disrupts a significant portion of your production processes. You have all the reasons to suspect that the deputy is doing this intentionally, due to your past internecine strifes, particularly disputes related to environmental pollution. Meanwhile, the country is engulfed in full-scale military actions, and the politician is aware of it, but he nullifies your attempts to fight an honest legal battle. What are the most effective and simultaneously legal ways to counteract this?

In times of peace, the first thing that would probably come to your mind is creating public pressure on your opponent through the use of PR tools, including conducting a PR campaign [1]. But now there is a war going on: the media and your entire target audience are likely more interested in the course of military actions, paying much less attention to trivial commercial disputes.

So, most of us would probably focus on other ways of problem-solving, postponing public campaigns for better times. Right?

However, if we look at the state of affairs in society from a different angle, particularly how current events are highlighted in the media, we can see an alternative trend: the state of war has dramatically reduced the tolerance of Ukrainian society for injustice and lawlessness [2]. We do not have to look far for examples: Knyazev, Synnychenko, the resignation of Odessa’s and a large number of other heads of the Territorial centers of recruitment and social support (former military commissariats) [3] are only a few. There are many legal cases that would have been resolved much more slowly and sluggishly in peacetime that are quickly receiving the “green light” during wartime.

Moreover, public opinion, shaped under the influence of the war, plays a crucial role in preserving a sense of responsibility in every citizen, activist, politician, businessman, government official, and even judge.

In other words, if there is a feeling that truth and justice are on your side, then PR becomes the “ace up the sleeve,” that will not only help attract public attention but also give an advantage in the perception of your case by judges and officials, in certain cases being much more efficient than a standard legal procedure.

What should you do if the truth is on your side? 

Indeed, under the circumstances of war, appealing to truth and justice is the only way to attract society’s attention. However, the saturation of the  news with information related to the war subjects all other cases to conditions of tight information competition, in which only the strongest survive.

How can companies enter this small “non-frontline” space of societal attention?

1)      Demonstrate to the public the connection between your case and the situation on the frontline, as well as the corresponding urgent matters in the region or the country in general. 

In the context of the example about the corn supply, this could include highlighting existing programs of providing material assistance by your company to funds supporting the Armed Forces of Ukraine or the restoration of local infrastructure, as well as the participation of employees in large-scale volunteer initiatives or direct involvement in the military action, etc.

2)      Explain in simple terms how the establishment of justice in your case will contribute to the improvement of the situation in the war-struck country.

Unlocking the possibility of producing environmentally friendly and efficient fuel from bioethanol during critical times for the country is the main message of justice. At the same time, emphasis is placed on the need to cease the opponent’s arbitrariness, whose actions could suggest systematic abuse of influence by officials.

3)      Detail the consequences that will arise if justice is not established in your case.

The corn processing activity, the supply of which is in our case study’s main focus, is not limited to the production of bioethanol.

As the main source of starch for the pharmaceutical, paper, mining, and construction industries, corn is used in such products as detergents, paints, diapers, cosmetics, glue, agrichemicals, and other items in our everyday life.

This means that the losses caused to each of these industries, due to the delay of a big supply of corn, is a full-fledged tool for projecting the impact of this dispute on everyone’s life.

Besides, by bringing the case to this final stage, companies can actively collaborate with public organizations, human rights defenders, and thought leaders [4] who advocate for the preservation of justice and defend human rights in a specific field. This can mean joint events, public speeches, and other initiatives aimed at drawing attention to the need to establish justice.

During the war, conducting PR campaigns is a significantly more complex process than during peacetime. However, with a proper and professional approach, they can become the only possible solution, attracting the attention of the mass media, the public, and even international institutions.

It is the actions of a public nature, buttressed by effective communication tools, that ensure the presence of societal pressure on all decision-making entities, which are important for a fair resolution of legal disputes, forcing legislative changes or simply timely and decisive actions by state authorities.

The case involving corn and bioethanol is not fictional but real, presented with changed details for confidentiality purposes. During the active phase of the Russo-Ukrainian war, this case was successfully resolved solely by the virtue of a public campaign, as legal instruments proved to be entirely ineffective.

 

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