Businesses Standing with Orlando

After last week’s tragic massacre in Orlando, businesses around the world launched campaigns to express their support for the victims and for the broader LGBT community.

Delta Airlines, for example, paid for advertisements in high-profile locations in major cities across the United States. The advertisements feature a ribbon that combines the American and Pride flags. The airline has also offered flight booking assistance to relatives of victims. Notably, the airline is already an official sponsor of Pride Day celebrations in the U.S. and Canada. Jet Blue has also stepped up by offering free seats on its available flights to and from Orlando for immediate family and domestic partners of victims who were killed or injured. The company has also encouraged its employees to donate to a special fund set up in response to the tragedy.

220px-USA_Lesbian_Gay_Bisexual_Transgender_flag.svgDozens of other businesses nationwide have responded in turn by issuing statements, offering counseling to traumatized employees and stepping up to support victims’ and their families in other ways.

The Starbucks “newsroom” has offered ongoing updates on the tragedy and their response. On June 15, the company posted the following message:

Over the past few days, many partners have reached out with words of encouragement and asked how they can help our partners and community in Orlando. Our Orlando partners are grateful for the outpouring of care and compassion from around the country.  To support the Orlando community during this difficult time, the Starbucks Foundation has contributed $50,000 to the OneOrlando Fund, launched by the City of Orlando’s Mayor Buddy Dyer, to help people and families affected by the shooting…Thank you for your thoughts and prayers, and desire to help. We appreciate everyone who has reached out to support the Orlando community.

But the question remains? Where’s the line between empathy and opportunism?

When Corporate Responses to Tragedies Backfire

Following 9/11, some advertisers stopped running advertisements, but others took out advertisements addressing the tragedy. One 2006 study, published in the Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising discovered, found that consumer reactions to post-9/11 advertising was mixed, at best. The Emigrant Savings Bank simply ran an add that used the words “sympathy” and “prayers” alongside images of the American flag and the Statue of Liberty. While many respondents supported the advertisement, 25% of respondents had a negative response. One respondent wryly conclude, “It’s a cheap shot at exposing how much the bank cares about America.”
220px-USA_Lesbian_Gay_Bisexual_Transgender_flag.svgIn this case, the study’s authors concluded, “Consumer cynicism regarding advertiser’s motives appears to be widespread and influences their perceptions of these types of advertisements…The events of September 11, 2001, were horrific to all Americans, including those who placed advertising. The urge to behave as a member of the group, although personally satisfying, may not be in the best interests of the firm.” This raises the question: Are the current corporate responses to the shooting at the Pulse, a gay night club in Orlando, strategic or not? Should businesses use advertising in the face of a tragedy?

What’s the Right Response?

Knowing how to respond as an individual or business to something one never wants to happen in the first place is no easy task. After all, we’re talking about a situation for which no one wants to prepare. That said, in today’s world of business, it is critical for large businesses in particular to have a clear strategy in place to respond to tragedies. While there are no hard and fast rules, best practices in management suggest that the most appropriate way to respond to a tragedy—on the scale of the Orlando massacre—is to have a well prepared communications team release a message of sympathy. Ideally, the message should be posted on one’s corporate website and in a shorter firm, posted on other forms of social media already in use (e.g., the company’s Twitter or Facebook sites). In addition, there’s no question that actions speak louder than words. You can take out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times expressing your sympathy or you can do something practical (e.g., offering a free and needed service to victims and their families).

June 20, 2016   Updated :June 20, 2016      

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