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The head of communications at the National Bank of Ukraine Natalia Bondarenko on working against a backdrop of corruption, war and an opposition that owns the media

As head of communications at the National Bank of Ukraine, I have experience of working against backdrop of corruption, war and an opposition that owns the media.

Academics, public officials and business leaders are all worried about misinformation and fake news. Yet it is us, communications professionals, who usually end up dealing with the issue most closely in our day jobs.

In order to maintain that all-important trust amidst chaos, communications teams must focus on building confidence and providing reassurance. We can find ourselves coming up against powerful organisations with monopolies on a nation’s TV stations, digital outlets and print magazines. News is war and when no tactics are off-limits for the other side, be it outright lies or fake social media accounts, we must learn to cut through the noise.

Get the basics right

The first step towards winning friends among the media is really quite simple. If you’ve received a query, let the journalist know you’re on the case and when they can expect an answer. Don’t forget about visuals. One thing that really helped our editorial relationships was creating a Flickr account with fresh high-quality photos instead of the staged, tired images that had been used pre-2014.

Deliver a fact-checking service

When hard facts and figures are disclosed, they are very hard to argue with – and it also saves you producing new content in a crisis situation. We made transparency our strategy and data – our content, developing a user-friendly digital fact-checking tool for media.

Don’t be boring

Communications that work in today’s world are authentic and personal, they speak to our emotions and make us laugh. If the usual tone of voice for your organisation is impersonal and corporate, comms teams have to challenge that. We saw this very clearly on one occasion when a National Bank Deputy Governor was accused of being a Russian stooge who had just sent her daughter to university in Moscow. A wordy rebuttal statement would have ended up at the bottom of articles and done limited good. Instead, our response was simple – release a photo of the Deputy Governor with her only daughter, aged six.

Be realistic

People can sometimes give negativity against them greater importance than it actually has on the media agenda. They feel the need to over-explain – and just end up feeding the news cycle. Given the speed of media today, many issues will quickly blow over, whereas a proactive response can give further oxygen and credibility to negative content.

Be transparent

Your best hope of tackling misinformation successfully is to be open and build genuine trust with stakeholders over time. Looking for new friends in the middle of a crisis is a bad idea; you need to think about the influencers you want to work with during the good times and develop relationships gradually. No one can stop fake news altogether, but an organisation that is honest, transparent and collaborative with stakeholders has the equivalent of reputational air bags to help in the event of a crisis.

Written by Natalia Bondarenko, head of communications at the National Bank of Ukraine

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