When candidate Donald Trump called out Ford Motor Co. for "moving jobs from Michigan to Mexico," he triggered an avalanche of criticism for the carmaker and created a new challenge for C-suites and comms professionals.
Ford’s then-CEO Mark Fields pinpointed this challenge when he told investors, "Unfortunately, we suspect facts are getting lost in the politics."
The president has since called out companies including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Toyota for potential punishment for moving jobs offshore. Concurrently, companies such as LL Bean, ExxonMobil, and Fiat Chrysler have been praised by Trump for their support and plans for U.S. investments, while others, including Ford, earned compliments for changing business plans.
Either way, the deluge of news coverage and social media commentary creates a noisy and uneasy environment for these companies and their employees, customers, and shareholders.
PR pros have a vital role in helping companies navigate these challenges and turn them into opportunities. The job is to ensure C-suite management understand the reputation implications of business decisions.
The starting point is to help them assess the optics and anticipate government and public reaction to initiatives.
Whether it is submitting bids for new infrastructure projects or outsourcing jobs, helping the C-suite understand the impact and develop plans to assert the company’s position and rationale should be high on every CCO’s agenda.
When the administration solicited bids for a border wall with Mexico, a few companies did not engage because of bills being considered by legislators in California, New York, and other states that would blacklist border wall contractors.
The ruling principle for companies is to "live their values" by acting in a manner that best serves their constituents’ interests, regardless of politics.
More than 100 enterprises, including Apple, Facebook, and Levi Strauss, joined in legal action against the executive order on immigration. Others such as Google, Target, and Campbell Soup vowed to advance the principles of the Paris climate agreement after Trump withdrew U.S. support.
It’s important to remember that while short-term movements in share price, consumer sentiments, and even presidents come and go, well-run companies that thoughtfully manage their business operations and reputation will endure.
Renee Wilson is the former chief client officer at MSLGroup and PR Lions jury president, now president of the PR Council.