5 Things Marketing Leaders Must Do in the Wake of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

March 02, 2022

Contributor: Ewan McIntyre

Although it may not be immediately apparent, you and your team have an important role to play.

In short:

  • You may wonder what marketing could or should be doing at this time, especially if your sector or industry is not immediately impacted by the Russian Invasion of Ukraine.

  • But between being accountable for your brand and serving as the de facto voice of the customer, it’s vital you have a seat at the table.

  • Take these five essential steps now — and use them as a playbook for future tumult.

In the early stages of any crisis, it can be difficult to know what actions to take. And in the face of a human tragedy on the scale of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, you may be tempted to act now and think later. Alternatively, you may wonder what marketing could or should do at such a time, especially if your sector or industry is not immediately impacted by the crisis.

Although marketing is sometimes seen as secondary in managing and mitigating enterprise risk, marketers are accountable for their brands and serve as the de facto voice of the customer. Consequently, it’s important that you ensure you have a seat at the decision-making table. Once you get there, take these five essential steps.

Learn more: The Top Business Questions About the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Step No. 1: Build scenario plans

Scenario planning is an essential, if underused, tool in marketing. Strategies always require you to consider hypothetical future business scenarios. At times of significant upheaval, the ones you imagined when you built your marketing strategy are likely to have changed considerably. So, it’s time to start fresh.

Pull your leadership team and stakeholders together to identify, prioritize and map new scenarios. Think about the potential implications for your customers, team and suppliers. Raise awareness among stakeholders, and prepare for a range of potential futures. 

Step No. 2: Be prepared to flex your strategy 

Marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It lives among the factors that touch the enterprise, even if those factors feel distanced from your direct markets or customers (or your customers’ customers).

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a humanitarian crisis with an economic and cultural impact. If your organization does business in the region, you’re likely already rethinking your plans. But even if you operate at a distance, you need to prepare to flex your strategy based on the evolving macro environmental situation. Consider how you can build adaptability and flexibility into your strategy to accommodate a volatile and evolving situation.

If you’re working with agency or vendor partners (e.g., creative teams, software vendors, etc.) in regions impacted by economic sanctions, review terms of engagement with your legal partners. Think about how these changes in your resource mix impact your ability to deliver against your strategy and tactics.

Step No. 3: Talk to your media agency

Where and in what context your brand appears is important. This is a lesson Applebee’s and CNN recently learned the hard way. What may appear innocuous under normal circumstances can become deeply offensive in times of crisis, and brand safety considerations should be top of mind.

Speak with your media planning team or agency about any potential scenarios where your brand’s content or creative could be placed in a jarring context. Content may be king, but context is everything.

Note that this doesn’t just apply to high-profile ad campaigns. Consider business-as-usual activity as well, such as the keywords and ad copy that you’re running in paid search. Think also of preplanned social media posts and email campaigns. 

Step No. 4: Partner with your comms team 

Your communications team likely already has a playbook for managing crisis communications. It should include tools and techniques that enable you to monitor the situation and plan, execute and manage integrated communications.

Ideally, marketing and communications teams work in lockstep when it comes to message management. This enables you to deliver timely and relevant messages to your customers, audiences and stakeholders. It also adds a further layer of brand safety protection in times of volatility.

Step No. 5: Prepare for downstream budget implications 

It will take some time to fully understand the financial implications of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But a conflict between the world’s eleventh largest economy and one of its biggest commodity producers will not be contained within Eastern Europe. A challenging inflationary environment may further escalate input costs, impacting enterprise finances and throttling an already-strained supply chain. The potential downstream consequences could squeeze marketing budgets — or at least continue a dulling effect, elongating the budgetary restrictions imposed by COVID-19.

Prepare now by prioritizing marketing’s programs and investments. At the very least, this will sense-check that your commitments still add up given the changing environment. Proactive prioritization will also ensure that you’re ready to identify the costs you can and cannot afford to cut, should budget challenges emerge.

Clients can access Gartner's full suite of resources for navigating the Russian invasion of Ukraine here.

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