Memorial Day messaging reminders

Take these steps to prevent unnecessary backlash due to mindless, tasteless or tacky communication.

Memorial Day messaging tips

Memorial Day can be a tricky holiday for companies.

It seems like you should say something, but what? Should you push out an earnest or somber social media message? Or perhaps use the occasion for an all-American sale?

According to Frank Strong, an Army vet who owns his own PR agency, a successful message starts with understanding what Memorial Day is (and is not).

“The key to messaging around Memorial Day is to understand what the day truly represents,” he says, adding:

“May 31 memorializes those who gave their life in service to our country. This is a different purpose than Veteran’s Day, which recognizes all of those who served in the U.S. armed forces.”

As Tony Silber, who served in the Navy and is now Ragan’s Workplace Wellness Insider editorial director, adds:

“Bob Dole and other veterans would sometimes reflect that it was the best among them who were killed. He meant the bravest, the ones willing to sacrifice themselves. Which is an appropriate honor.”

Over time, Memorial Day has become synonymous with summer fun, grilling and good times with loved ones. And, unfortunately, opportunistic marketing gone horribly wrong.

There’s no surefire or “right” way to communicate on Memorial Day, but here are a few things we can hopefully agree on as we approach the holiday weekend.

If you’re unsure, err on the side of respectful silence.

If you’re not a veteran—or if you don’t plan on speaking with a group of diverse veterans before crafting your Memorial Day message—take a long pause before hitting “publish.”

This holiday means different things to different people, and it’s a highly emotional day for many. Some even find the term “Happy Memorial Day” offensive due to the solemn nature of the observance.

The 2021 iteration of this holiday, which coincides with an ongoing pandemic that has killed nearly 600,000 people in the U.S., probably lends itself more to solemnity than levity. Unless your organization has something substantive to add, you can probably sit this one out. Either way, it’s a “read the room” moment that merits careful consideration to prevent a needless misstep.

But hey, if you want to use this day to shill chicken wings, that’s your call.

Go beyond empty, holiday-driven platitudes.

How well does your company recruit, engage and retain military members and veterans? If that’s not an issue that’s been on your corporate radar, use this occasion to bolster your employee resource groups. Also, take substantive strides toward creating a vet-friendly culture.

As Silber notes:

“Organizations can help by welcoming former military members, creating a positive environment rather than sort of ignoring it.”

Silber offers a reminder to explore Memorial Day’s roots, which in part arose from Black Americans placing flags at the graves of Union soldiers who were killed during the Civil War. Digging into U.S. history—even the painful or difficult subject matter—can be a great start toward crafting more meaningful corporate storytelling.

Box-ticking, calendar-based platitudes won’t do anything to help your brand. However, issuing fluff rather than substance can certainly backfire or harm your credibility.

Listen—and learn from others.

It’s instructive to learn from other companies’ cringeworthy marketing fails. But it’s good to monitor those who consistently produce respectful, meaningful vet-centric messaging, too.

USAA offers a good model to follow. Home Depot and Lowe’s typically do a nice job honoring vets, too—despite the overt attempts to use Memorial Day as a means to move merchandise. There are also loads of Memorial Day military discounts to consider, which can be a reasonable way to observe the occasion.

Regardless of how you proceed, just remember what Memorial Day represents and how it arose. It’s a day to honor the women and men who perished while serving in the U.S. military. Let your messaging flow from that reality, and make sure your words match your company’s actions behind the scenes.

Over to you, readers. How does your company observe Memorial Day? Are there any companies who do an exceptional job of vet-centric messaging? Leave your comments and thoughts below. And enjoy a safe, long weekend.

You can get more insight on the latest crisis communications best practices and strategies by joining Ragan’s Crisis Communications Virtual Conference on June 10. Top-level pros from brands like Carnival Cruise Line, Dow Jones, IBM, Amtrak, Barclays, Pace University, Comcast and more will share essential lessons on defending your reputation in a volatile world.

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