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Navigating the Storm: CEOs and Brands in Times of Crisis

Has crisis become the only constant change around us?

A series of recent events around the world have gained significant attention and have become a serious reason for concern. Their consequences have found their way into many aspects of our lives.
The most recent conflict that reignited in the Middle East has reached beyond politics and has become humanitarian issue, that society demanded addressed by politicians, organizations, influential people, celebrities, and of course, brands.

CEOs and CxOs already know that change has become the only constant in our lives. They learned (or some keep trying) to protect their core value and brand promise but to adapt fast and stay resilient in times of change.

Has the time come to consider that crisis is the only constant change around us? How should CEOs and brands respond to the crisis? Should they voice opinions or take a side?

This is not an easy question as brands are torn apart by contradicting requirements:

  • they have to stay true to their values and keep their brand reputation,
  • their employees are their top priority,
  • they need to adapt, stay resilient, and move forward.

Yet, they are also pressed to be politically correct.

For the past 10 days, we at United Partners have been researching the topic and implications of the latest conflict on behalf of a few of our clients and wanted to share our takeaways.

Through our Brandwatch* research, we found that while the political response to the initial attack on 7th October, was mostly unanimous, companies kept quiet. And they keep being relatively silent.

Here is a summarized account of the brands that came up with statements following the events in the Middle East:

There was just one brand to go official immediately. They communicated simultaneously and published official statements internally, on their website, and on their social media channels. They also announced a donation. Other companies (if they spoke) did it mainly internally and on social media. Interestingly enough, we noticed some “official-like” statements coming from top brands and these were withdrawn as the crisis unfolded.

The top priority for brands remained their own employees – some issued statements, others have set up internal web pages, and one CEO published a letter on X [formerly Twitter].

We heard one CEO saying that “a donation effort is worth 1000 statements”, so donation efforts played a key role. Indeed, the brands that engaged in donations immediately were much more. Almost every company – especially those with large operations in the conflict zone – began donation efforts immediately and these efforts keep intensifying.

Moreover, social media became a mirror for the unfolding conflict, reflecting the battles at all fronts. We saw deep sympathy, but also a lot of hate, finger-pointing, misinformation, and fake news. Interestingly enough, one company was blamed in social media “for failing to detect the danger”. The only reason for the blame was that the company was known as a supplier to the military.

Examples of the corporate reactions to the current crisis in the Middle East

Tech

The response in the technology sector has been mainly one-sided with tech giants standing with Israel.

At Google, where there are two offices and over 2,000 employees in Israel, CEO Sundar Pichai sent an internal memo to employees on Saturday night, condemning the “horrific attacks on civilians in Israel” and acknowledging the intensified conflict currently taking place. The company has initiated a safety check, reaching out to all employees situated in or traveling to the region.

Oracle issued a statement on its website and social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) expressing solidarity and support for Israel.

Oracle’s message on social media:

“We condemn the terrorist attacks against Israel and its civilians. Oracle will provide all support necessary to the Government of Israel and the defense establishment. ”Oracle

Intel Corp.: Intel expressed deep sadness for the loss of life caused by the attacks and extended thoughts and prayers to the victims’ families. The company emphasized its long history in Israel and its commitment to supporting employees, customers, and partners in the region. They are closely monitoring the situation, taking measures to ensure the safety of their operations.

IBM: IBM’s CEO, Arvind Krishna, announced the loss of an IBMer and an IBM retiree in the conflict, pledging support for affected employees. IBM launched a fundraiser, matching donations 1:1, to aid Israeli organizations providing medical, food, and housing assistance.

Microsoft: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella expressed sorrow over the attacks, emphasizing the safety of their nearly 3,000 employees in Israel. Microsoft initiated relief efforts, allowing employees to contribute and support first responders technologically, primarily focusing on cybersecurity R&D.

Amazon: Amazon CEO Andy Jassy condemned attacks on civilians, expressing solidarity with Israeli employees and global relief agencies. Amazon facilitated avenues for employees to donate and supported humanitarian causes, including cash donations to international organizations.

Apple: Apple expresses deep sadness for the loss of life and suffering caused by the Hamas attack on Israel. They stand with their Israeli employees, customers, and partners, condemning all acts of terrorism and violence. Apple pledges $10 million to humanitarian organizations providing aid and relief to affected communities.

Other Tech Companies and Financial Institutions: Several tech giants and venture capital funds, including Insight Partners, General Catalyst, Oracle, and Intel, pledged substantial donations to Israeli rescue organizations. Financial institutions like J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs advised remote work for employees in Israel, emphasizing solidarity with Israel.

Healthcare

Earlier this week, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla posted statement on Twitter expressing engagement, emotion, and support. The tweet reflects the company’s stance on a particular issue, although the specific content of the statement is not provided.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.: Teva Pharmaceutical condemned the Hamas attacks, standing in solidarity with Israel’s right to defend itself. The company affirmed its commitment to delivering medicines to patients in need, ensuring the continuity of its supply chain. Teva also pledged humanitarian aid and support to the affected communities.

We would like to note that some European countries have enforced restrictions on pro-Palestinian public activities, and others have issued warnings or imposed restrictions on pro-Palestine groups they accuse of supporting terrorists or advocating anti-Jewish views. This adds another layer of difficulty for brands if they want to speak up or issue statements in defense of Gaza and Palestine. Expressions of solidarity in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom have been largely confined to small organizations like student associations and the Green Brigade of Celtic Football Club supporters.

Fashion, Retail, and Beauty

In the fashion and retail sector, American Eagle replaced its flagship billboard in Times Square with an image of the Israeli flag. American Eagle’s CMO, Craig Brommers, announced the decision on LinkedIn.

Nike: Nike is deeply concerned about the Hamas attack on Israel, emphasizing the humanitarian crisis and threat to regional stability. They offer condolences to the families of the victims and wish for a speedy recovery for the injured. Nike rejects attempts to undermine peace and security in Israel and its neighboring countries. They collaborate with local partners to provide assistance and supplies to affected areas.

In contrast, H&M closed all its stores in Israel, and Zara has temporarily shut down its 84 locations in the country. Notably, some took more direct Pro-Palestinian stand, like Huda Beauty.

Ad Agencies

Major advertising agency groups reached out to their employees in Israeli operations, offering support following the attacks. And while the support was widely one-sided, there were some individuals speaking up for the Palestinian people.

Pro-Palestine voices should be heard too, according to Ashish Prashar, cited by Ad Age, who was global CMO of ad agency R/GA:

“I’m seeing a lot of industry execs ‘stand with Israel,’” Prashar said in a call on Tuesday. “You’re not seeing people at the executive level say, ‘I stand with Palestine.’ You’re seeing it one way.”Ashish Prashar

Over the weekend, Steve Forbes, Chairman, and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media, shared video on LinkedIn condemning the attacks by Hamas in response to the ongoing conflict.

“The free world is horrified by the massive terroristic invasion of Israel by Hamas this morning,” he said. “The brutality, the barbaric acts already being committed, the kidnappings underscore the nature of the enemy.”Steve Forbes
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