S2 E3: The Art of Communicating in Challenging Times with Ieva Naujalyte
We live in challenging times, and people everywhere are on edge, living in a state of chronic stress. Inflation, war, and natural disasters cause people to worry about their lives, their livelihoods, their loved ones, and their future.
How should brands, corporations and professional communicators participate in the global conversation when people are so sensitive and divided?
For Ieva Naujalyte, the answer is to "Be tasteful, be positive, and be trustworthy." Ieva believes that communicators must guide conversations on difficult topics such as climate change, politics, and social justice, and work with organizations to understand the impact of outside forces on people's everyday lives.
People can react to messages with apathy or denial, and are more likely to fall into information "bubbles." PR professionals need to understand this in order to effectively communicate with people during these difficult times. Communication strategies should take into account the fragmentation of society, as well as the manipulation of information by bad actors in order to capitalize on people's anger and fear.
Building relationships is key, and it can be done by offering true advice and support. Trust is the most critical characteristic in business, and it can be achieved by listening more than talking, helping people avoid potential traps, educating them on new issues, and delivering on promises.
About the Guest
Ieva Naujalyte is a managing partner of Adverum, a public relations firm from Lithuania and representing the Baltic states for PRGN. She has over 15 years of communication experience in various industries in Europe & the Middle East. Ieva has worked with international clients and award-winning integrated communication solutions, including large-scale cross-border projects, and internal and external communication strategies, including brand positioning, corporate sustainability, and employer branding.
About the Host
Abbie Fink is vice president/general manager of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, crisis communications, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations.
PRGN Presents is brought to you by Public Relations Global Network, the world’s local public relations agency. Our executive producer is Adrian McIntyre.
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From the Public Relations Global Network, this is PRGN Presents. I'm Adrian McIntyre.Abbie Fink:
And I'm Abbie Fink, vice president/general manager of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. With public relations leaders embedded into the fabric of the communities we serve, clients hire our agencies for the local knowledge, expertise, and connections in markets spanning six continents across the world.Adrian McIntyre:
Our guests on this biweekly podcast series are all members of the Public Relations Global Network. They discuss such topics as the importance of sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance programs, crisis communications, content marketing, reputation management, and outside of the box thinking for growing your business.Abbie Fink:
For more information about PRGN and our members, please visit prgn.com. And now, let's meet our guest for this episode.Ieva Naujalyte:
I am Ieva Naujalyte and I come from Vilnius, Lithuania. I represent the communications agency Adverum, and I am a managing partner there.Abbie Fink:
Communications professionals all around the world are being asked to guide our clients, the organizations that we represent in what is an extremely challenging time in our society. We have issues that are impacting the world, really. Whether that's political, climate change, social justice, we can't walk away from these topics anymore. As communicators, it's up to us to help guide those conversations and work with our organizations to understand what outside forces might be doing to the work that we are ultimately doing for our organizations. There's really an art to communicating during challenging times. I'd like to talk to you a little bit more about what are you seeing in the people and the societies that we're working with, the issues that are impacting us, and how is that impacting the work that communicators are doing for our organizations?Ieva Naujalyte:
Well, you're absolutely right. We live in challenging times because inflation is skyrocketing and economies are stalling. On top of all of this, we have a war in Europe. However you look at it, yeah, pretty challenging times you say. We ask ourselves, have our clients and buyers changed as well? The short answer is yes, because people are now worried and anxious about money, health, their future. Research shows that people are increasingly in a state of chronic stress because they face multiple crises. What does it mean? Well, when a person experiences a crisis, they need time. Usually they deal with it naturally or with the help of relatives, friends, or therapists. What about a crisis follows crisis? We react to each new event, be it pandemic or a war or inflation or recession not from our normal health, healthy state of mind, but from a stressful condition. When stress, we react differently to communication. We can easily meet messages with apathy or denial and our self-protection mechanism distances us from everything what is happening. What is more, of course, what is more super important is that loneliness, isolation, confrontation, and lack of community and unity is now kind of become normalized. In this state, many people fall, unfortunately, but they fall into some kind of information streams or bubbles. These bubbles are incredibly narrow and at times toxic. Actually, it doesn't matter how we get into this so-called echo chambers by our conscious choice. We pushed into them by algorithms or our deficient intelligence, but result is clear as society is divided into bubbles. Most of bubbles are so far apart, especially when it comes to technology, technological literacy, economic conditions, prosperity, access to help and support, and countless other aspects. In these turbulent times, our target audience are, our people are actually physically weak, emotionally damaged, and socially divided so yeah, we have to communicate differently to them.Abbie Fink:
Well, and I think we're listening to the list of things that are impacting and as a business owner myself, and then guiding and counseling others that own businesses and run organizations, we come to it with both sides of that equation. We are impacted personally by what is happening around us and have ways to deal with that as our own individual within our families and our own communities, but yet we have an organization to run. We have staff that we have to take care of, and we have to understand the impact of that. Maybe the way that we created our communication strategies two years ago, five years ago, aren't the same as we are doing now in that we have to think differently about who our target audience is, how are we analyzing our work and what are the tools and the frameworks that we need to use and are they the same? Is what we know and what we did before having the same impact now? It leads me to believe that one of the biggest things we need to do is adapt. That our usual target audience tools and such may not be what's working and we need to be thinking differently about how we approach these kinds of conversations with our organizations and the clients that we work with.Ieva Naujalyte:
Yeah, I think it's super, you're absolutely right. We have to have this magic power that is called adapting. This is what we do and this is what we've been like in our agency, we've been thinking since the beginning of all the troubles in the world. Of course, we still count on media and social media monitoring, but now audience analysis needs to go much deeper than before. Probably the same year agency for many years, we have categorized our audiences using demographic and psychographic characteristics and use frameworks such as personas describing customers interests, age, income, location, preferred media. We would guess how they would normally act in certain situations but today, these personas increasingly don't fit anymore. This is because they're chronically stressed and they behave less stereotypically and more sporadically. Another thing, what is also very important is that communication works best, as we know if we convince a large group of people or critical mass to do something. To think in some way that we want them to think but since society is now really fragmented and trapped into these digital bubbles, it is much harder so because people in those social bubbles, they're not linked by age, income, or even place of resonance or anything. They are defined by their problems, their points of view, and their beliefs. In my opinion, as a communication professionals, we must find those bubbles and not only listen, but actually participate in them.Adrian McIntyre:
One of the things that strikes me is the fragmentation that you're speaking of is not only social and emotional, it is being aggravated and exploited by media types that are capitalizing on literally, they're converting these emotions into money. Capitalizing on fear, capitalizing on division. Certainly we could do a whole other podcast episode on the topic of disinformation, misinformation, various actors manipulating the narrative and this literally happens everywhere in the world, but it is especially happening around conflict, whether in the United States or in Europe. It's a very heightened state of the information war, let's say. You're calling for empathy, you're calling for compassion, and I think that's right. How do you as an agency, how do you work with clients to try to get some of the hardness out of the space in which you're trying to communicate? In other words, your messages are going into a world that's very agitated, that's very stressed, and you need to take that into account. How do you actually do that?Ieva Naujalyte:
Yeah, well, with lots of patience first of all. Actually we have three things are like, let's say let's use a rule of three all the time when we advise our clients now and we use three magic words. It is be tasteful, positive, and trustworthy and that's it. That's how you should communicate now if you actually want to be heard and because what does it mean? Well, of course, all these economic and political matters are very sensitive because they touch people's jobs, savings, health, or whatever. Rule number one, don't be flashy or inconsiderate. Avoid gimmicks are superficial solidarity because your customers or clients will see through and accuse you of being out of touch. This is called being tasteful. Another big thing is positivity, because positive outlook wins all the time. Of course, clients are in challenging conditions, businesses are hurting, but we strongly believe that this can do attitude and focusing on success, no matter the market conditions always shine through. We advise to ensure communication to be upbeat because when people are slammed with negative information and loads of negative information, they actually want to see good things and they want to see things that make them happy, even make them laugh. The third thing that I mentioned, being trustworthy, it is super important now. It's always important, but especially these times because insecurity and mistrust are high and so it is important to build relationships by offering true advice and support. Recently, this Dale Carnegie study said that 73% of people ranked trust as the most critical characteristic in business. It means how do we build trust means we listen more than talking. We help people avoid potential traps. We educate them on new issues. Most of all, we deliver on our promises. There are many ways of doing this. As a company we can organize face-to-face meetings, hold talks, implement informative PR campaigns, because at the end of the day, today, actions make a difference and not words. At the beginning of the Ukraine War, we saw how successful those companies that immediately withdrew from Russian markets were. People liked and respected them and we saw how unsuccessful those companies were that announced that they had only restricted their activities. People joined protests literally next to shopping malls to boycott their production. Are some people just silently quit using those brands? What that teaches us is that actually if you perform morally or socially desired act, you have already made a successful communications campaign. When forming a strategy, especially nowadays, we avoid questions what will we talk about? Instead, we ask, what are we going to do and once we establish this, then communication just falls into places because when good deeds are real and they actually make a difference, then telling stories is not difficult. Of course, the question is how to come up with the right act because despite of all the differences and countless content forms and social media channels and algorithms and relentless flow of information, all the people and all the target audiences want the same three things. Feel valid, know the truth, and feel connected. Whatever we do, we have to show respect to our audience. No matter who they are or how they feel, do not pass judgment. Let them confidently be part of their social bubble and avoid pushing too hard.Adrian McIntyre:
Thanks for listening to this episode of PRGN Presents, brought to you by the Public Relations Global Network.Abbie Fink:
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