How tragedy can inspire good - Veritas Communications
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How tragedy can inspire good

With recent tragic headlines dominating the news, it becomes almost tiresome to pick up the paper, click open newsfeeds or catch a spot of television before heading out on that morning commute. Whether in our own backyard or around the world, there’s a tragedy happening every second. From the continuing mass exodus of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar to the latest deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas, we can’t escape the realities of life.

But throughout it all, there’s a constant thread of hope. Humankind isn’t lost to the vagaries of this world. Kindness does exist, and it’s what makes us human. Take this story of a blind woman who was robbed by a woman she befriended on a bus trip from Sudbury to Toronto. This woman was kind enough to the stranger sitting beside her that she even invited her to share her hotel room for the night, where she was robbed of the $800 in her wallet that was intended to help her get around the city for her medical appointment, and Christmas shop. When news of this story broke out, the outpouring of support was unbelievable. Her daughter started a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $3,500 in a single day. From a communications standpoint, this is a perfect example of how tragedy spurred positive action. However, brands must tread cautiously in this area.

As communicators, it’s important not to take advantage of a tragic story – there’s a difference between showing solidarity in support and exploiting a happening for gain. Take the example of Mark Zuckerberg for using the ravaged backdrop of Puerto Rico to demonstrate his latest VR tool. It’s no surprise critics lambasted him for his on-screen avatar that high-fives another avatar in front of flooded homes. He did apologize but it’s not easy to forget his gross error in judgement, and poor taste.

This past week, we also lost an iconic artist – the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie, one who was generous in spirit, a “poet laureate” and “friend of everyone” as eulogized by the Prime Minister. From east to west, Canadians have created makeshift memorials in honour of his life, as every moment was spent giving back to our country. But what resonates the most is that he was always grateful; it was this gratitude and appreciation of everything that surrounded him which has endeared him to us all, and created this moment in time when people from coast-to-coast can celebrate his life together. He is an example of a death that inspires hope, and goodwill. Despite losing one of the most important artists of our time, he left a behind a legacy that will no doubt inspire like minded people to use their talents for good.

So, what should brands do when tragedy falls? It’s not mandatory to insert a brand into every one of these conversations, but before doing so, it’s important to examine the situation carefully as it relates to the brand. A single misstep can create a lasting, negative effect on brand reputation.

Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Never tie the tragedy into a promotion or try to profit from it. This sounds logical enough, but you’d be surprised at what some brands have learned in the moment, and most recently with Gord Downie.
  • Hold off on pitching any story if the event continues, as news desks will no doubt be busy covering the tragedy as it unfolds – and continue to monitor the story to know when to resume pitching.
  • Avoid making any specific statement about the tragedy. It’s okay to show support, not report. Brands are third-parties in this event.
  • Cancel any automated tweets that might have been scheduled as reporting of the tragedy continues. The brand will appear callous and uncaring if showing a “business as usual” face while others have stopped activity out of respect.
  • If the brand wants to make a statement, make it as broad and positive as possible, like this announcement from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) President and CEO.

This blog post was written by Account Director and Media Relations expert, Deane Code. For more, follow @VeritasComm on Twitter.