Communicating a Russia exit

| March 17, 2022

Jason Sumner presents a round-up of the best corporate uses of websites and social media to communicate commercial withdrawals from Russia

The list of companies that are pulling out of or scaling back operations in Russia in response to the war in Ukraine grows longer by the day.

Communications strategy is just one part of what is a complex and high-stakes decision, but corporate websites and social media attract unusual attention in times like these. Corporate digital managers are likely to be under pressure themselves to satisfy stakeholders’ need to know, and to resist any internal hesitation about going beyond carefully worded statements.

For those of you who are contending with how to handle the issue on your online channels, here are some of the best approaches to Russia-related digital communications that our consultants have seen in recent days – in terms of visibility, tone, channel selection and type of statement.

IBM – sending the message on country pages

IBM has suspended all operations in Russia. The company’s Ukraine and Russia country pages have prominent statements and links to a statement from the CEO in the corporate newsroom. It is notable that the statement from Chairman and CEO Arvind Krishna takes the form of an internal memo to staff that the company is sharing publicly, an approach we’ve seen other companies, such as McDonald’s (see below), adopt. The statement has a date – “the following message was shared with IBMers worldwide on Monday, March 7th 2022” – and is notable for its refreshingly unambiguous reference to “war in Ukraine”. The statement is also signposted in a prominent tagline on the global home page.

Website screen shot

McDonald’s and Exxon – home page banners

McDonald’s has paused operations in Russia and temporarily closed all restaurants there, which is conveyed on the corporate home page banner. There is also a link to an email from CEO Chris Kempczinski to McDonald’s employees and franchises. 

ExxonMobil announced its intention to exit its partnership with Russian energy company Rosneft on the Sakhalin-1 project; and make no new investments in Russia. The home page has a banner announcing its decision, with a link to a short statement. Although it is good to provide signposting on the home page, the statement itself falls short of the detail that we have seen from others and in its forthrightness, referring to, for example, “the situation in Ukraine”.

Website screen shot

Apple and Allianz – leading with the humanitarian angle

Apple has suspended sales in Russia. Its consumer-facing site has a prominent banner with a link for visitors to donate to Unicef, which is good signposting. However, when we tested the link, it required us to open the Apple Music app, which some visitors will not want to do. And, apart from this, we could not see a prominent reference to Russia or Ukraine in the corporate newsroom, although the company’s decision to suspend sales was widely reported in the media in early March. CEO Tim Cook tweeted about the situation on February 25th, but we could not see a further statement relating to business operations.

Allianz is not doing new business in Russia or making new investments, and is “decisively reducing exposure” in Russia. The Allianz corporate home page also leads on the humanitarian angle, but the difference with Apple is that Allianz is announcing its own donation— a EUR10m donation to humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, and an additional EUR2.5m to match employee donations. Also, whereas we could not find any further news from Apple, on allianz.com, immediately underneath the banner announcement there is a short statement about its future business in Russia. Further below is a link to a letter the Board of Management sent to employees on the day of the invasion, February 24th.

Website screen shot

Nestlé and Novo Nordisk – detailed FAQs

Nestlé has suspended most operations in Russia, apart from essential products. The company has added a question in its prominently signposted “Ask Nestlé” FAQ – “Update on Russia and Ukraine”. The detailed statement explains in what ways the business is pulling back from Russia, but also notes the “responsibility toward more than 7,000 employees in Russia – most of whom are locals” and that the company will continue to do its “utmost to ensure a reliable supply of safe and essential food products for local people”.

Novo Nordisk, a major supplier of diabetes and haemophilia medication, has a link on its home page to a detailed statement and FAQ. The detailed statement is necessary in this case because as a pharmaceuticals provider, the business decisions are more difficult: “As a pharmaceutical company, it is our responsibility to supply essential medicine… and we will do all we can to maintain supply in Ukraine and Russia.”

Website screen shot

Pfizer – using Twitter to amplify

Pfizer has suspended clinical trials in Russia but is continuing the “humanitarian supply of medicines to Russians”. It will also donate all profits from its Russian subsidiary to humanitarian causes in Ukraine. The company has a link to a statement on its home page, but is also notable for a series of three tweets to communicate the company’s approach on March 15th: “Today we are announcing several updates to our company position in Russia, in response to the Russian war in Ukraine and the brutal situation it has created.” There is a link to a further statement on the website from March 14th.

Bowen Craggs’ team of consultants contributed to this article.

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