Dodging reputational shots this election season

Brands and comms pros can navigate the reputational chaos of the 2020 election, says Dag Vega of BCW.

Presidential candidates (L-R) Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Vice President Joe Biden at the presidential primary debate. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images
Presidential candidates (L-R) Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Vice President Joe Biden at the presidential primary debate. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

At countless rallies, debates, televised forums, and in ads and comments on Twitter, dozens of brands have been targeted during this presidential election season. Candidates have called for boycotts, criticized company operations and issued other warnings that have clear business implications.

A quick turn in conversation can, and has already in several cases, shifted the spotlight to consumer brands whether they wanted it or not.

The political back-and-forth has disrupted any existing predictability in the news cycle. But even during this chaos, proactive and reactive communications and smart risk mitigation strategies can help companies leverage opportunities and defuse unnecessary entanglements.

So far, technology companies have found themselves in the middle of extreme scrutiny when the promise of technological innovation came crashing down during the Iowa caucuses.

During the Nevada Democratic primary debate, which drew in a record-breaking 19.7 million viewers, candidates thrust TurboTax into the conversation. And the use of Google Cloud's products in the Nevada caucuses pulled that company into the spotlight.

Brands are being scrutinized on an array of issues such as environmental sustainability, workforce, healthcare, and perceived political bias and that scrutiny is reaching past TV screens to audiences more in touch with the news on mobile.

Through Twitter and Facebook, consumers loyal to their candidate often repeat and comment on the charges and related calls-to-action. Consumers and company employees expect brands to stand for more than profit and often pay close attention to the way brands respond to election-year debates.

Because of this, more than ever brands must establish a strong foundational communications strategy to help navigate these high-profile, high-risk moments. Here are a few key components to include:

First, don't communicate afraid. Don't shy away from issues that are important to you and your industry. Consumers often turn to brands for guidance on what they should be buying and why. And today's consumers are savvy at sniffing out disingenuous brand engagement and experiences. Communicate in a way that prioritizes authenticity and commitment.

Establish a campaign roadmap that relates to your brand. It's easy enough to find the timing of the next televised debate. But are you in touch with state-level ballot initiatives and budget proposals that will generate election cycle conversations?

A siloed vision of how your brand may fit into the political narrative can lead to blind spots and missed opportunities to showcase your values to consumers.

Stay connected by internally sharing and leveraging insights. Create internal systems to keep a finger on the pulse of the political and policy-oriented debates that matter most to your brand.

Are you in touch with all of the external actors that you need to be? Have you determined which organizations or figures you should be monitoring so your brand can engage or interact with them?

Despite the uncertainty and volatility of this year's political climate, it's clear brands will not, cannot and should not remain passive. By being prepared and thinking ahead, you can control your narrative and promote your thought leadership while navigating the pitfalls of the 2020 election terrain.

Dag Vega is an executive vice president and managing director at BCW.

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