This blog post is for all startup marketers out there. Russian war in Ukraine is becoming more brutal with direct attacks on civilians, hospitals and refugees. We have a war in Europe. As a human being and a marketer, this was unimaginable just a few weeks ago.

In most startups, you are the only marketing person in your team. Right now, it probably feels overwhelming, and there is so much social pressure and so many hard choices to make:

  • should our company make a public statement against the war or not?
  • how to help employees in Ukraine?
  • should we fire our employees working in Russia or not?
  • for how long should we postpone our marketing activities?
  • should we make a statement to our employees or not?

If this feels familiar, you are not alone.

On the 3rd of March, ten marketers gathered at Palo Alto Club for the first Growth Marketing Mastermind meeting. We shared our current dilemmas and decisions in marketing. We felt that sharing our discussion would be helpful to other marketers out there.

Posting a statement against the war

If our company says nothing, does it mean we support Russia? Even if we post, is it meaningful, or do we just litter communication space?

Your team and company have probably donated for Ukraine already, either privately or collectively. However, most of you have not announced it publicly. Should you?

The consensus in the Mastermind group was that although the pressure to say something is substantial, a statement only condemning the war or stating your donations would not help the situation in any way. If your company can do something extra for helping Ukrainians and you post about it, then anti-war statements or donations are appropriate, as a post from Index Ventures.

Do something special for Ukraine

The social pressure for companies is increasing: the other companies are doing something, should we also do something. For example, a gas station chain has already on their billboards that they donate 30% of their coffee sales revenue to Ukraine. Some companies are doing special events for Ukraine. Another service company states in their app that they will donate 5% of your bill to Ukraine.

Should you do something special?

The answer depends on a natural vs. brainstormed connection with Ukraine. The consensus in the Mastermind group was that if the activity comes naturally from your core, then do it. Do not do it if you have to start brainstorming the connection between your company’s activities and Ukraine. So, for example, companies active in cyber security or education have a natural link.

Communicating that your company is contributing a share of revenue to support Ukraine should be respectfully. It can not be a core message of a new campaign or product launch.

Doing launches and planning marketing activities

During times of war, selling a product seems so irrelevant. Sending out marketing messages seems almost inappropriate. At the same time, we can not stop building up a better world by offering value to people and companies. I personally feel that this is the best answer to any current or future dictator – we will not stop building up a better world.

People’s attention is full of war news, and they do not have the bandwidth to process anything else. Right now, no new product can be super exciting or world-changing. Several marketers in the Mastermind group saw it also in numbers: web visits have dropped drastically, online marketing has a minimal impact right now.

Did you have a new product or new campaign launch planned for the beginning of March?

The consensus of the Mastermind group was that you could do either a soft launch or postpone the launch. A soft launch would mean that you still start to offer the new service but do not spend on online paid marketing as nobody can process your message right now. One startup is doing a soft launch in Germany in the Mastermind group. The other startup, which is installing physical products to homes and offices, is switching from online marketing to offline marketing (fliers, product presentations in shopping malls etc). Some are companies postponing their campaigns.

The group also concluded that any marketing message could not feel pushy or car salesman-like. If you feel that your message might be insensitive right now, then you are most probably correct. Either tone down your message or postpone sending it out.

How long should you postpone your marketing? Two weeks, three months?

First of all, people are dying in a war and fighting for a democratic Europe in Ukraine. Losing some revenue in the coming months is a small price to pay, even for a startup with a short runway.

The group consensus was that marketers should play it by ear and plan one day ahead. We are still in a mist of war, and nothing can be predicted or planned.

Messages to employees

What message to send to your employees regarding the war, actions of your company, and future of the company?

Your company leaders set the tone for crisis management. In a bigger team, saying nothing is also a statement and sets a tone. In one company of the Mastermind group, the CEO sent a letter to all employees regarding his feelings about the war, how the war might affect the company, and what steps the company is taking. In that particular case, the company had emergency funds set aside, and they could assure that even if revenue drops significantly, they have actionable plan B, and do not have to lay off anybody. The CEO got several “thank you” messages from employees as such a letter took off a lot of emotional pressure and stress.

How to talk about the emotional state of your employees when most of them are poker-faced Nordics, who never show emotions?

Do we like it or not, the war in Ukraine increases anxiety and stress in all of us. Even if we think that we are immune. Talking about it is healthy (as long as it is not for you the only topic 24/7). In one company, a manager started a meeting saying that he is doing a survey on how people are reacting right now and asked a colleague if he is buying extra food or doing something else due to the war. This clinical and unemotional question allowed to have an open discussion about emotions such as fear, shock, horror.

What to do about your employees in Ukraine and Russia?

Help them relocate to Estonia if possible. Creandum has put together a guide for practical steps to help your team in Ukraine.

Fellow marketers, remain calm, follow your heart, continue your work, and help to build a better world.