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Andrea Hill

Here’s How to Protect Your Brand from Russian Backlash

It means vetting your suppliers and sharing your actions with your customers.

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THAT OLD SAW that all publicity is good publicity may have worked for P.T. Barnum and Oscar Wilde, but modern news outlets love a good PR disaster, and consumers respond with their pocketbooks. There is potential PR disaster in all jewelers’ headlights in this moment of Russian military aggression and global attention.

The world (or at least most of it) is appalled by the attack on Ukraine, leading to the most comprehensive economic isolation of a country in history. The sanctions – and constant news coverage around them – are teaching a master class in how money moves and how countries and politicians access money to fund their ambitions. In this case, the goal is to strip Russian leadership of its ability to fund a war. And consumers are suddenly aware that Russia has in its bank reserves approximately $142 billion in gold (based on gold values on 3/3/2022) and 650 million carats of diamonds, and that Russia is a world leader in gold, diamond and platinum group mining.

What Does This Have to Do with Marketing?

As U.S. states move to ban Russian imports of vodka and bartenders pour Russian vodka down their bar drains, consumers are looking at their favorite shopping haunts and asking, “what do I buy that comes from Russia?” Nobody wants to help fund a war against innocent civilians, and the American public – already feeling helpless after years of pandemic and now a frightening war – is looking for ways to do something, anything, to make a difference.
They are making the connection that their gold and diamonds may be linked … however indirectly … to buying a tank or paying for bullets.

Protecting Your Brand Meets Protecting the World

You already know how important your brand values are to your customers. The role you play in your community, the youth sports you sponsor, your participation in charitable events, your reputation as an employer and your trustworthiness as a seller of fine jewels all play an important part in attracting and retaining customers.

You have probably also been conscious of conveying that you do not buy conflict diamonds, because until now, the most obvious international standard for diamond responsibility has been the Kimberley Process. And it is comforting to be able to tell the occasional concerned citizen that you made sure all your diamonds were compliant with the Kimberley Process, doesn’t it?

But the Kimberley Process is no longer sufficient as a validation for diamond responsibility, and the stakes have become much higher.

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Now you need to protect your brand by showing that you would not wittingly or unwittingly buy goods that support Russian military aggression. Even if there are not formal sanctions against specific diamonds or gold, consumers want to know where their money is going. They want to shop their values, and that means they need to know your values.

What Can You Do?

You can be vigilant. You can make sure you have an anti-money laundering (AML) policy in place, which provides an important framework for verifying your suppliers. If you don’t have an AML policy, the JVC’s AML kit makes it easy for you. Verify your sources of gold and diamonds. Contact your suppliers and tell them you expect them to double-check their sources. Make it clear to your supply chain partners that you expect transparency all the way back to the source.

Purchase supplies from companies that have voluntarily submitted to upholding ethical and transparent supply chain standards. This includes buying from companies that are certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), the Responsible Minerals Initiative’s Responsible Minerals Assurance Process (RMAP) or London Bullion Market Association (LBMA). RJC, RMAP and LBMA standards comply with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) five-step due diligence framework. Companies that comply with voluntary standards are far more likely to know who their suppliers are and who their suppliers’ suppliers are.

Then share your actions with your customers and community. Let them know the steps you are taking to protect your business – and your clients – from contributing not only to the current conflict in Eastern Europe, but to broader violations of human rights or damage to the environment from the business of jewelry.

When you take action to do the right things, you share your brand values. Now more than ever, your values as a company matter to consumers.

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Andrea Hill is owner of Hill Management Group, with three brands serving the jewelry industry. Learn more at hill-management.com.

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