The world is watching as Russia unjustly invades Ukraine. Pressure is on our world leaders to respond and support Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and the Ukrainian people.

While there is so much to say about the brave people and narratives coming out of Ukraine that I cannot even begin to cover it in this blog, I do want to discuss how leaders and businesses have responded to Ukraine, and their actions’ impact on news cycles and public relations.

Let’s start by looking at businesses. Numerous companies are cutting ties as quickly as possible with Russia – either to conform to U.S. and EU sanctions, or out of humanitarian concerns over Russia (or often both). Shell and BP have divested from their Russian interests. Disney is no longer airing new content or movies in Russia. General Motors suspended vehicle exports to Russia. These announcements have been largely met with positive news coverage and public sentiment.

In the tech world, Facebook, Twitter and Google, are continuing to navigate how to handle disinformation and news, and have taken steps in different ways to cut coverage from Russian-state news sources and remove Russian-sponsored content.

In what I would consider a major PR win for tech giant Elon Musk and Tesla, after being called out by Ukrainian leaders, Musk quickly delivered Starlink service to Ukraine, helping the Ukrainian government and people keep communication channels running amid invasion.

Apple, on the other hand, also called out for continuing to sell services and products in Russia, had not responded to criticism or come out publicly on how they will handle their business ties – bringing derision and negative news coverage. As I write this, Apple just announced they have stopped selling products in Russia – which I’m sure was a decision at least partly impacted by international attention and negative PR coverage.  

But it’s not just businesses and national leaders in the spotlight over how they are responding to Russian aggression or supporting Ukraine. Local leaders have also made major missteps that have resulted in PR problems.

 Duluth Mayor Emily Larson, for example, refused to light the iconic Lift Bridge blue and yellow in honor of Ukraine, stating that the city was “inundated” with requests to light the bridge over the years and would not do it as a result. The negative PR required the mayor to quickly about-face and agree to light the bridge, making more local headlines and stirring additional chatter on social media channels.

As the world is watching and responding to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine, our leaders, businesses and communities must rise to the moment. Empty statements and words with no action behind it are not enough, and people see that and are responding accordingly.

For those who do not rise to the moment, deliver empty statements, or are too slow to respond, negative PR and public pressure is rightly not far behind.