April 19, 2017 By FTI Consulting
For communications professionals, Donald Trump’s administration – and his @realDonaldTrump Twitter handle – has resulted in a refocusing of skills. Many agencies have varying perspectives on dealing with the sharp impact of the president’s tweets, but a more subtle danger is lurking.
As polls show that Donald Trump hit the lowest approval rating of recent presidents this early into a first term and continued protests (most recently the Tax Day Protests) unfold throughout the United States, being considered in cahoots with the president poses potential reputational risks for companies and their leaders.
An unlikely target for ire from the progressive public, Elon Musk, is learning this the hard way.
In many ways, Musk and his companies should be a dream for both progressives and an administration bent on swelling America’s manufacturing and engineering jobs.
It makes sense Musk would take advantage of this positioning in both alternative energy and manufacturing step in to create a dialogue with President Trump early into his administration, as a way to shape policies to ensure the growth of his companies in industries where competition is fierce and entrenched interests see him as a clear and present danger.
However, some see any acquiescence to – or even engagement with – the Trump administration as being tantamount to colluding with it, and some of these people are not without their means. Silicon Valley lawyer-turned-venture-capitalist Doug Derwin, for example, dropped his order for a Tesla S before announcing he was willing to spend up to $2 million in funding media buys and coordinating protests against Musk’s relationship with Trump.
He has already spent $500,000 on media buys and launched a website – www.elondumptrump.com – to lambast the relationship. Albeit sporting a modest following on social media at this stage, the site’s slick layout and punchy intonation smack of digital campaigns of activist investors in the past.
Musk isn’t the only one to get caught in the crossfire between Trump and social activists, either. The beleaguered CEO of ride-sharing app Uber, Travis Kalanick, has also borne the brunt of customer dislike for the president, stepping down from Trump’s business advisory council (on which Musk still sits) after facing a backlash from his social media-skilled and liberal-leaning millennial customer base.
Meanwhile some brands, such as L.L. Bean, have also found themselves under fire for more outspoken support of the president.
Companies are used to having some say in what goes on in Washington and not so used to having a president with a personal social media slingshot (or scud missile, depending on the tweet). But when engaging with the White House angers consumers and disengaging risks the enactment of damaging policy or a Twitter assault, what are they to do?
Ultimately, this will be driven by business goals and whether their company or sector is vulnerable to significant changes in regulation under the Trump administration. But behind that should be some solid preventative measures to safeguard against a backlash, whatever the source may be. These tips aren’t rocket science, more like additional basics to get right, but they can save a company in a potential media storm.
Given that the most likely origin of a backlash from either the president or the public will come via Twitter, keep your eyes on the little bird.
After President Trump threatened a “big border tax”, companies such as General Motors touted plans to relocate jobs to the U.S. This action was already in the works but was positioned to diffuse (or at least deflect) the president’s ire. This news doesn’t have to be new but should be a recent and topical proof point for a company’s position or action.
Whether you are speaking for, against or simply with the administration, convey your “why” to the public in a way that explains both business objectives and brand values transparently.
Tailor your responses to the interests of those raising concerns and respond where those concerns are being voiced.
In our existing political climate, everyone is looking for any opportunity to have their voice heard and all viewpoints are represented. Look for key external advocates and spokespeople to bolster your position with the media and on social.
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