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Stand and Deliver or Sit Down and Shut Up? Comms Strategy in the Trump Era

17th February 2017

US chief client officer, Danica Ross reflects on the conundrum facing many businesses today

Well, here I am blogging again about comms in a Trump administration era. I can’t help myself, there’s just so much to dissect. It’s like a master class playing out in real time. Truly, we are living in incredible times to be a comms professional.

Today’s topic: stand and deliver, or sit down and shut up? I can probably count on one hand the number of clients who haven’t come to us in the last month asking “what should we say about Trump.” It is – hands down – the number one issue on which we’re giving counsel: should you take a stand (pro OR con) or should you stay out of it?

While each company needs to assess the pros and cons of wading into the troubled waters for themselves, based on their unique ethos and market position, there is a relatively simple litmus test to determine if taking a stand is right for you.

Four questions, into which we will dive deeper, in a moment

  1. Are you already known to be an activist brand?
  2. Is your brand part of the zeitgeist?
  3. Do you cater mostly to millennials?
  4. Do the regulatory proposals of the administration pose an existential threat to your business model?

If you answered no to all of these, you probably should not take a stand.

I know that feels awful. I know that passions are high and people on both sides of the aisle feel that the heart, soul and safety of our country are at stake. So here’s the one exception: if you feel that you absolutely must speak, you have a platform and you must use it for good (whichever side you think good falls on), then by all means, have at it. But do so with the full knowledge that you are making an emotional decision that may imperil your business.

Now, on to those who answered yes to one or more of our four questions.

Yes, you are known to be an activist brand. Let’s say you give 25% of your profits to Greenpeace, or to pro-life groups. Let’s also assume that your consumer base knows this, and it is a factor in why they opt for your product or service over a competitor. You have a history of “doing what’s right.” It’s part of your ethos and business model. Clearly, your consumers are going to expect you to take a stand.

Next up, are you part of the zeitgeist? Very few companies can claim actually to be part of the zeitgeist – by which we mean here, part of the consumer mindset at this particular time. Brands in this category will have outsized pressure to take a stand, and will either get it right (like Airbnb) or spectacularly wrong (like Uber).

Third, do you cater mostly to Millennials? Millennials are cause-oriented. They choose jobs and products not only based upon what they are, but also who they are and how they impact the world. If your customer base is comprised of these people, you may need to join their cause (if you haven’t already).

Lastly, are you facing an existential crisis? The Trump administration is seeking to reverse a lot of legislation that has been in place for the past eight years… a time period during which technologies emerged and products and services previously never dreamed possible came to fruition. If a change to these regulations would mean that you can no longer conduct business, you absolutely must take a stand. But be careful to curtail that stance to the law at hand, not the administration writ large.

In today’s world of comms, counsel and strategy are the new media relations. The amount of time devoted to each aspect has been turned on its head, with far more planning, consideration and forecasting preceding the outreach, which is now considerably more targeted, with fewer touchpoints. And this month, the hot strategy for debate is whether to sit down or stand up.

Danica Ross

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