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Your Neighbor’s House Is on Fire. Do something!

High-profile communicators are currently at a crossroads, a position born of the nationwide outrage over the police-related death of Minnesotan George Floyd. The public eye is focusing sharply on the commentary coming from government officials, celebrities and national brand spokespeople, parsing words for both their inherent and implied meanings.

Three words encapsulate this scrutiny: Black Lives Matter. They’ve become electrified, polarizing and political, three hard-to-navigate overlays for corporate and personal brands.

Standing with the Black Live Matter movement risks appearing to side with the unfortunate violence, looting and rioting that followed the Floyd protests. It also provides opportunity for the quick (but unhelpful) comeback: “Don’t all lives matter?”

Standing apart from Black Lives Matter begs the label of racist.

Staying silent on the issue comes off as uninformed, uncaring and noncommittal.

Lose-lose-lose.

What’s required is bravery – a quality that corporate messengers aren’t always comfortable with.

It’s time for spokespeople to search their hearts; swallow the fear; deal with the consequences; and take the hand of African Americans who need it right now.

I myself wrestled with the don’t-all-lives-matter rhetoric. My personal epiphany came from an online meme. It showed a person dousing a housefire, while a neighbor – whose house was safe – asked, “Don’t all houses matter?”

As corporate communicators, we owe it to our industry to stoke that bravery. Our employers rely on us to anticipate change and to guide messaging accordingly. Occasionally (now, for instance) that means social change.

If you and your brand have sat on the fence on this one, I urge you to hop off and let your voice be heard. Consumers’ expectations of brands go far beyond price and quality and now include social activism and cause marketing. You may alienate some customers; you may cause others to rethink their individual biases and rethink their actions. That’s a payoff with far more value than sales, profits and dividends.

Dan Weckerly is an experienced public relations professional currently counseling a number of companies local to the Lehigh Valley. He can be reached at dweck140@gmail.com.

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