Digital PR Best Practices Under the Worst Circumstances

While many Digital PR and communications professionals struggle to implement measurement best practices under normal circumstances, MacPaw, a Ukraine-based software company implemented a best-in-class measurement program under the worst-possible circumstances – the Russian invasion of their country.

They wrote press releases in bathtubs and subway stations. When the power went out, they switched to car batteries to power their computers. And within the first hours of the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Julia Petryk, Head of PR at MacPaw, co-founded the Ukrainian PR Army, an independent, non-profit organization comprising Ukrainian communication experts. Their mission is to share the truth about the Russian war against Ukraine and to build a credible image of Ukraine as a democratic, independent European country.

Last week, I emailed Eugene Kalnyk and Nina Bohush, who are PR Specialists at MacPaw, as well as Julia Petryk, who left MacPaw in December 2022, and I asked them to share their stories about about staying resilient for more than two years as well as developing Digital PR best practices under the worst circumstances.

Greg Jarboe: First of all, how are you and your family, friends, and colleagues doing? 

Eugene Kalnyk: Considering the ongoing war, I and my family and friends are doing fairly well. I feel thankful that those close to me are safe and to all defenders of Ukraine. However, the attacks are a constant reminder that life is fragile. Just on February 7th, Russia launched missiles that hit a residential building just a mile from my home. Five people were killed, 39 injured, and hundreds lost their homes. I could see the smoke from my window. It’s devastating and is also a reminder to value each moment.

I feel fortunate to still be able to work on exciting projects at MacPaw. The year 2024 looks promising for us, with many exciting releases and news planned. My colleagues and I have a positive outlook focused on the future despite the enormous challenges Ukrainians face daily. The resilience and spirit of the Ukrainian people give me strength during these dark times.

Greg Jarboe: How is MacPaw doing? 

Nina Bohush: Since February 24, 2022, ensuring the safety of our team members in Ukraine has remained MacPaw’s key priority. This commitment endured into 2023, with the majority of our team staying and working from Ukraine. The company has taken proactive measures to address potential risks, including the equipment of a bomb shelter in our Kyiv office to shelter team members during Russian missile attacks.

As a company, we also prioritize the mental well-being of our team. Every team member has the option to take additional days off for recovery. Furthermore, individuals can request special support sessions with MacPaw’s dedicated coaches. The company conducts regular mental health surveys to understand key areas of concern and assess the overall well-being of our team, enabling the company to effectively manage crises amid wartime events.

During the second year of the full-scale invasion, MacPaw continued its operations. All of our products have remained functional since the onset of the invasion, with users receiving timely updates.

In 2023, we launched a new cybersecurity division, Moonlock, and achieved a significant milestone by opening a new office in Boston, USA — all that while updating our products and ensuring their uninterrupted work for users worldwide.

Over the past two years, MacPaw has embarked on crucial changes to bolster our resilience against potential risks and ensure our company’s longevity and stability. We’ve prioritized the implementation of a comprehensive risk management system within our operations. This system is designed to guarantee that MacPaw can maintain its operations under different emergency scenarios, safeguarding our workflow, our team, and, ultimately, our customers.

We believe that by equipping our company with reliable risk management and business continuity frameworks, we’re setting a strong foundation for sustainable growth and success in the face of any adversity.

Today, our team continues to work, volunteer, and donate to bring the victory to Ukraine. We will rest only when our people are safe in our country, only when justice and peace in Ukraine are restored.

Greg Jarboe: Two years ago, a group of Ukrainian PR and communication experts and journalists formed the Ukrainian PR Army to fight the lies about Russian-Ukrainian war. How is that doing? 

Julia Petryk: In the face of ongoing battles, scarce weapons, and brutal attacks on civilians, Ukraine remains steadfast, defending its independence against Russian invasion. For the second year running, the Ukrainian PR Army works tirelessly to share Ukrainian narratives globally, striving to ensure their stories resonate internationally by connecting media with war witnesses, Ukrainian and international experts, and authorities on deadline and online, organizing interviews, and providing comments for journalists.

PR Army’s primary goal is to represent Ukrainian civil society giving access to truth. The organization raises awareness of Ukraine’s financial, humanitarian, and military needs; the necessity to combat Russian propaganda; the necessity to advocate for sanctions; and Ukrainian perspectives. Over the past two years, PR Army has transitioned from merely sending pitches to actively engaging in communication and advocacy campaigns, such as Where Are Our People? and Voices of Freedom.

It’s been over 700 days since PR Army hasn’t stopped working for a single day since Russia invaded Ukraine. The nonprofit works closely with journalists, opinion makers, governments, and institutions and has held several press conferences on journalistic standards and how to address a problem with terminology in war coverage or what to do when Russian disinformation warfare impedes people’s access to verified information.

PR Army’s coverage has spanned across 5,000+ media outlets, garnering recognition from renowned sources such as The New York Times, The Guardian, Fox News, and The Washington Post, among others. Their publications have reached 74 countries and received over 8,000 mentions on various social media platforms.

By now, PR Army has received several professional awards:

  • Best in a Crisis PR Week Award, a professional U.S. PR award recognizing our efforts in sharing voices of freedom (March 2023)
  • Platinum SABRE Award for the best PR campaign “Fighting with Our Words,” an advocacy campaign conducted by PR Army and Plus Communications in the US, 2023
  • Honorable mention at the PR News Awards as the Non-profit Team of the Year, 2022
  • Received the Emerging Europe Awards in the Media Freedom and Responsible Reporting category, 2023
  • Nominated for the 2023 ICCO Awards, Best Not-for-Profit Campaign: “Where Are Our People?” by PR Army, and Improving Society and the Reputation of Public Relations: PR Army, 2023
  • The AMEC Awards 2023 honored the “Bathtub Creative” campaign, a collaborative effort with PR Army aimed at encouraging donations in support of Ukrainians

Undoubtedly, for the two years of the war, it has become harder to hold the reader’s attention now than at the beginning of the Russian invasion. We should not expect that people will focus on only one topic for two years in a row. We are working with media and journalists and have to reinvent the angles of where we communicate Ukraine.

Our team is immersed in spotlighting human experiences – real-life stories of individuals during the last two years. Our featured individuals include a person who survived forced labor in Russia after being held captive, a compassionate priest who saved orphans from deportation, and a determined combat medic advocating for broader systemic changes. The list of authentic war stories from Ukrainian civilians, military personnel, artists, and even pets is extensive and continues to grow.

In February, we launched a campaign featuring stories of Ukrainians from diverse backgrounds. While we’re still compiling all the results, the four weeks of effort brought an overwhelming response. We sent out 32 pitches, shared 102 stories, and received 58 media requests. Currently, ten stories have been published, and many more are awaiting publication.

PR Army believes that communication leads to global changes, and by conveying truthful narratives about hybrid warfare, witnesses, stories about change, overcoming obstacles, business recovery, Ukrainian resilience, and the war itself, the comms experts ultimately will contribute to Ukraine’s victory on the information front.

PR Army launched hours after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and has been operating nonstop ever since. To support our ongoing mission, there’s an option for individuals to contribute and endorse us by subscribing to exclusive content on our Buy Me a Coffee page.

Greg Jarboe: What have been some of your most significant successes in the past two years?

Nina Bohush: The most important thing is that our team remains steadfast in our commitment to support our country in the fight against Russian unjust aggression. None of us were ready to live in wartime, and no one should. However, we managed to adapt to the new harsh reality and find a way to not only survive but keep moving forward. Even though the majority of the MacPaw team is in Ukraine, all of our products have worked steadily from the first day of the full-scale invasion. Furthermore, the team has continued to release new products and updates to current ones while volunteering and donating to help save the lives of our defenders. I’m inspired by the courage and extraordinary resilience of my fellow teammates.

Amidst the escalating number of attacks targeting ordinary internet users and the spread of Russian propaganda and disinformation, MacPaw launched a new cybersecurity division, Moonlock, in 2023. The increasing number of Mac computers has drawn more attention from bad actors. In the latest research, Moonlock discovered a significant disparity between Mac users’ perceptions and the actual risks they face. While one-third of Mac users believe hackers are not interested in them, over 50% have encountered malware, hacking, or scams. This underscores the pressing need for heightened awareness and protection among Mac users.

To address this issue, MacPaw assembled a team of experts to develop easy-to-use cybersecurity tools for Mac users. The flagship offering, Moonlock Engine technology, now enhances the Malware Removal module of MacPaw’s most popular product, CleanMyMac X. Today, Moonlock is working on a product for personal digital safety outside CleanMyMac X.

Another achievement of 2023 was the opening of the new MacPaw office in Boston, USA. By doing so, we aimed to establish a stronger presence in markets with the highest number of MacPaw customers. We are excited about the opportunity to hire talented individuals and expand our Boston team. Our goal is to foster innovation and create a hub for learning, collaboration, networking, and engaging in discussions about the latest tech trends and challenges.

Greg Jarboe: What have been some of your most bitter disappointments over that time? 

Nina Bohush: It’s not a disappointment, but I feel deep devastation when I witness how the ongoing war impacts our Homeland. Lots of Ukrainian cities lie in ruins because of Russian shelling, and I question whether it’s even possible to rebuild them. The economy is in decline, with many people losing their homes and jobs, not to mention their families.

From a business perspective, the company has had to postpone some of our goals or releases to prioritize supporting our team and ensuring stable business operations during these unprecedented and turbulent times. However, in 2024, MacPaw has remained committed to a globally consistent strategy since 2022. Our primary focus continues to be integrating AI into our products and enhancing security and privacy solutions for our customers, both in existing and new offerings.

Greg Jarboe: Are there any specific projects or topics that you would like to highlight? 

Nina Bohush: Two years since our commitment to stand with Ukrainians against Russian aggression, we at MacPaw have redoubled our efforts. Our CSR initiatives have focused on providing humanitarian assistance, supporting Ukrainian defenders, restoring access to education, and fostering a culture of inclusion.

I want to highlight the work of MacPaw Foundation, our corporate charity, that has been instrumental in providing humanitarian aid to those affected by the Russian invasion and supporting the Ukrainian defenders, supplying them with necessary life-saving and tech equipment. During these two years of the full-scale Russian invasion, the Foundation donated $9+ million to charity and aid procurement.

We understand the crucial necessity of supporting our Homeland in these unprecedented times of the full-scale invasion. So, every team member has additional days off to volunteer and participate in other activities organized by the MacPaw Foundation.

You can find more details and photos about the impact of MacPaw Foundation, and the results of its work and initiatives, in this post.

Greg Jarboe: Can you give me some examples of how life has changed on a daily basis compared to how things were before Russia’s latest invasion?

Nina Bohush: Just one example: in wartime, it’s impossible to make plans. For instance, you may have morning plans to complete tasks at work or have breakfast with friends. However, early in the morning, Russia launches another missile attack on civilians in Ukrainian cities. You find yourself rushing to the bomb shelter and waiting until the attack subsides. The stress and early emergency wake-up leave you feeling tired throughout the day, impacting productivity and your overall state of mind. I’m grateful to MacPaw for prioritizing the safety of the team members and equipping a bomb shelter in our Kyiv office.

Greg Jarboe: What are you hoping will happen in the foreseeable future? 

Eugene Kalnyk: Like all Ukrainians, we hope for and work towards our victory in this war. We do not know precisely when it will come, but we must continue believing and fighting for that day.

In the foreseeable future, I hope to see the liberation of all occupied territories, the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and the emergence of a free, democratic, and thriving Ukraine integrated with the European community.

And I hope for justice — for accountability for all war crimes committed and for global security measures established to prevent such unprovoked aggression from recurring.

We will keep working and keep fighting for that vision as long as it takes.

Greg Jarboe: How can Americans help Ukraine in the foreseeable future?

Eugene Kalnyk: First – donate if you are able. Organizations like Nova Ukraine, a US-based non-profit, and Razom for Ukraine, a Ukrainian-American non-profit, provide direct funding those in need in Ukraine. United24 was launched by the Ukrainian government to consolidate fundraising globally. Come Back Alive, one of Ukraine’s most trusted independent NGOs, has funded hundreds of special projects aiding defenders. MacPaw Foundation, the charity arm of MacPaw, has delivered lots of tech, protective, and medical supplies to our defenders. There are many great non-profits as well as government efforts that need financial aid, which makes a massive difference in saving Ukrainian lives.

Second – keep contacting your elected representatives and urging ongoing support for Ukraine militarily, economically and politically. This war is a matter of global security, with implications far beyond just Ukraine’s borders if aggression goes unchecked.

The daily fight for Ukraine’s survival is far from over — your donations and voices of solidarity can prevent unimaginable suffering, save lives, and prove that freedom ultimately prevails if good people stand up united against tyranny.

Greg Jarboe: Keeping Ukraine’s economy alive during the war has been crucial to the country’s survival. Can you share what MacPaw has done to develop a best-in-class measurement program during the word-possible circumstances? 

Eugene Kalnyk: Our public relations team at MacPaw faced an ongoing challenge: how do we link our output metrics like media coverage to higher-level outcomes that impact the business, such as trust and reputation perceptions? We came to Katie Payne and Nathaniel Laban with this specific request for guidance on developing a measurement strategy that would bridge that gap.

While we are still in the implementation phase, we are very excited about the direction of this project. We started by surveying thousands of Mac users across multiple countries to define reputation and trust drivers specifically for MacPaw and our products. Using key driver analysis, we identified priority areas where we have an opportunity to tell our story better and strengthen trust perceptions. These key metrics now anchor our consolidated cross-tactical measurement dashboard.

By grounding our program in robust research and modeling tailored to our business context and goals, we feel confident we can accurately track performance and make informed decisions to better meet customer needs. We are inspired by their world-class expertise and proud that even in extremely difficult circumstances, our team remains committed to upholding standards of excellence. We believe this work positions us well for the future.

Greg Jarboe: Are there any other lessons that you can share about digital PR best practices that have worked during a crisis created by a war? 

Eugene Kalnyk: The power of strategic communications has never been more evident than during the war. We’ve seen impactful communications campaigns influence global political leaders to provide more aid to Ukraine. Massive fundraising efforts have directed relief to millions affected by violence. Rapid response supply drives have gotten essentials into the hands of displaced families who fled with nothing.

On the digital front, comms specialists leveraged the immediacy and reach of social platforms for good. Getting ahead of misinformation, telling real-time stories of resilience, driving global solidarity movements — these have been key to tackling false narratives and maintaining spirit despite unfathomable hardship. My key lesson is that communications have a great capacity to unite, inspire, and save lives during the darkest hours. During Ukraine’s ongoing fight for its right to exist, communications have made the difference between life and death, freedom and oppression, truth and deception.

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