How to Manage Brand Reputation During an Election
Don’t wait until 2024 to start thinking about the upcoming presidential election – the time to plan and act is now.
Since our last election cycle, consumer attitudes toward corporate involvement in political and social issues have shifted significantly. According to a 2023 Bentley-Gallup poll, 41% of Americans say businesses should take a stance on current events, down from 48% last year.
However, consumers do want companies to make a positive impact through actions like fair wages, quality healthcare and operating sustainably. In short, they want less talk and more action. They want companies to do the right thing and they’re more likely to do business with those that do.
But how do you even know what’s right in this increasingly complex time we’re living in? Therein lies the challenge for us marketers.
As we look ahead to what is set to be a particularly intense year for brand marketers and communicators, this guide, created by the Jackson Spalding issues management team, will help you navigate this complex arena by conducting a series of preparedness exercises before a candidate is even nominated.
What does your organization stand for?
In our polarized culture, there are few things everyone can agree on. However, values cannot be contested, as they are uniquely yours. Your company values should be the yardstick against which every interaction is measured, and the first step in determining whether an issue is worth jumping into or staying out of.
- Are your values written out and known by your employees?
- Are your values not only being communicated to your employees but also lived out by them in their actions?
- Are your values available to your customers on your web site and throughout the language you use in your interactions and communications?
- Is the issue at hand something that directly impacts, affects, conflicts with, or supports your values?
Where are you vulnerable?
Look inside and outside your organization for vulnerabilities, draft new messaging for areas of vulnerability or update any messaging that is outdated. Carefully review:
- Corporate and executive/board member political giving and political activism at the local, regional and national level
- Corporate policies and past statements on hot button issues (i.e., reproductive rights, gender equality, wage, immigration, gun control)
- Past promises or stances on topical issues or cultural moments (did you fulfill them or provide progress updates?)
- The topics that are most important to your core audiences (internal and external). Do you have programming/actions and messaging that supports these topics?
See our Brands and Ballots content piece for more questions to ask yourself to assess vulnerability.
What’s happening in your sandbox?
Conduct an audit of your direct competitors and what they are saying on the topics identified during your vulnerability assessment. Evaluate them side-by-side with your messaging to see how you compare and where you might have gaps or a different position. Then, determine if this leaves you more vulnerable or better equipped.
- What are others in your industry saying and doing and how does that compare to your organization?
- Given your findings, are you likely to be a target?
Build your toolbox
If your brand is hijacked by a politician, celebrity or influencer, how quickly can you identify the threat and respond? With experts predicting 90% of online content will be fake by 2025, being able to spot and quickly stop and correct dis- or misinformation online is the new first line of defense.
- Do you have the right technological tools – like JS’ proprietary integrated monitoring platform, JS Tapestry® – in place to quickly identify and inoculate a trending issue on social or traditional media?
Have a plan
- Work with your team to whiteboard out potential scenarios related to the vulnerabilities you identified in the first exercise. Nothing is too wild – jot everything down and determine if you are currently taking an action that could help guide your messaging or if you need to take one now, before it’s too late.
- Identify your core team – who will be on the front lines to respond to each scenario? Keep the list short; analysis paralysis and approval times must be kept to the bare minimum in our 24/7 news environment.
- Plan out your year with vulnerabilities in mind – i.e. are there key cultural moments you need to plan around or specific local milestones that may impact your business? Go ahead and map these out on the calendar so you can see how they overlap with your marketing and comms calendars and may impact your efforts. Cascade your findings beyond the communications team to ensure you’re not doing this exercise in a vacuum.
Look for the bright spots
As you evaluate your plan, consider whether your brand can be a bright spot in someone’s day and focus your efforts there.
- Do you have an opportunity to bring a smile to someone’s face, to treat them just a little bit better when they visit your place of business, to invest in a campaign that helps them better navigate stress or mental wellbeing (like Jackson Spalding client L.L. Bean’s “Off the Grid” campaign)? Your brand can be a beacon in difficult times, so look for those spots along the way and activate around them.
From vulnerability assessments to tabletop drills, contact us to help you navigate these complex socio-political times and protect your brand reputation.