Holidays Bring Increasing Challenges for Corporate Communications

Author: Peter Shafer

The Woke Holiday Season

“G.K. Chesterton, the British author known as The Laughing Prophet, pointed out over 100 years ago that people who are secure in their beliefs need not fear mockery. It’s those with shaky doctrines who cannot tolerate laughter,” observes Kyle Mann in the Wall Street Journal recently. This quote reminded me that as communications professionals and executives face the 2021 holiday season, sending the message “Merry Christmas” to anyone could cause angst and backlash in this age of woke everything.

It used to be commonplace for organizations to wish everyone connected to the organization a Merry Christmas. And as times changed and customs evolved, organizations shifted to Happy Holidays to accommodate more and more audiences. In doing so, some audiences became affronted that Merry Christmas was no longer used, and those people switched brands. Some brands with strong and publicly touted values have embraced those values and lead unapologetically with more traditional Christmas messages.

Christmas Cards for Business

Christmas cards, the paper type, were printed and distributed in mass to clients, prospective customers, employees, and many other targets audiences and stakeholders. In fact, getting such a Christmas card sometimes carried an implicit message that the recipient was special and important. If you didn’t receive a Christmas card, it might signal that your business relationship was not in good shape. The ritual of sending and receiving cards was a way to strengthen a business relationship with very low risks involved.

Retail and consumer products companies continue to maintain this delicate balance. And let’s face it, what to say, how to say it, and where to say it at the holidays is not as simple as it used to be for organizations.

Holiday Messaging Challenges

Striking the right tone, balance, and appeal is being examined and filtered through so many more “lenses” than ever. And with each “lens” comes a nuance that blurs the central message and creates possible misinterpretations with audiences. For organizations, holiday messages have evolved into yet another way to promote and reinforce brand reputation. Getting that “right” is now the challenge versus in the past.

As organizations grapple with what to say at the holidays, it’s probably a good idea to take a step back and ask the question, are we being authentic and committed to our values? That is the crucial question, and it could be a tough one depending on who you ask within the organization.

The next consideration is making certain an organization understands and comprehends its key stakeholders and audiences.  It’s prudent to ask, “who do we really want to reach with our holiday messages?” and “is what we want to say consistent with our perceived brand reputation?” The second question is harder to answer because social activism and wokeness create many more dimensions of reputation. Or said differently, social activism and wokeness have made new benchmarks for interpreting reputation by analyzing an organization’s actions, practices, policies, and investments.

Plan Your Holiday Messaging Approach

Looking forward and thinking about the possible upsides and downsides of holiday messaging for your organization, here are a few things that might be helpful:

  • Remind all employees, especially executives, that anything they say or type is public even if they think it is not. A simple text joking about a holiday message between friends can quickly be publicly reported and globally shared.
  • Make “suggestions” of how to draft personal holiday messages on behalf of the brand. Many executives running departments and divisions can use guidance to contact and write personalized notes to employees, clients, vendors, and customers.
  • Ask ahead of time, “who should we be concerned about when crafting our messages?” For example, a holiday message to employees may need to consider and acknowledge the overall mood and concerns of employees.
  • Keep messaging simple and consistent. Don’t try to accomplish too much with holiday messages. Provide consistency across all media channels as much as possible.
  • Prepare for backlash. Even with the best, most well-crafted holiday messaging, it is always wise to have a response ready if a backlash occurs. And if it happens, follow your playbook and don’t escalate the situation.
  • Solicit feedback from a wide array of people before releasing the messaging.

While these steps will reduce the overall risk to the organization’s reputation, it’s best to prepare and set expectations for a potential backlash.

Enjoy the Holidays!

With plans made, messaging shared, and reactions prepared for, take a deep breath. Spend time with family and friends, and have a blessed and wonderful holiday season. Have Merry Christmases, Happy Hanukkahs, Happy New Years, and joyful celebrations of any holidays you commemorate.