Marketing & PR: Planning to Navigate Politics

It’s been a tumultuous two weeks in the United States (to say the least). In the wake of the storming of the U.S. Capitol, everyone is a little on edge. But brands, marketers and public relations professionals in particular have had, and will continue to have, their work cut out for them. 

Following the events of last week, many brands took a firm stance on the integrity of the U.S. election and against the actions of the insurrectionists. This aligns with an ongoing shift we’re witnessing in consumer expectations. Since the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, it has rapidly become the norm for consumers to expect brands and businesses to take a stance on social, ethical and political issues. In fact, many brands are being called upon to do more than just the usual release of a public statement — they’re being asked to take action, and many are doing it.

With inauguration day on the horizon, a protest-filled weekend ahead, and the knowledge that consumer expectations are higher than ever, many marketers are asking: How do I prepare for this?

How Do I Prepare for What’s Coming?

Many brands are pulling back on marketing efforts until the waters settle. That strategy makes sense in many ways. Running business-as-usual, pre-planned campaigns is dangerous right now. Brands who don’t hit pause on their plans run the risk of being seen as tone deaf or out of line if/when the unexpected happens. Should violence or tragedy ensue, a lighthearted scheduled post on Instagram could seriously tarnish a brand’s reputation.

Though hitting pause on automations until the waters settle is a necessary first step, it’s not enough to properly prepare brands for tough situations — especially because we live in a time when the waters rarely feel settled. It’s tough to plan for an unpredictable future, but it’s important to begin drafting public statements for likely scenarios.

Above and beyond that, if you haven’t already, it’s time to develop your crisis response process and related chain of command. Establish the expectation that current events may require people within the process to be on-call in case of emergency. These questions will help you begin building a strong protocol for crises:

  • Who will be responsible for drafting public statements?
  • To whom, if anyone, is it appropriate to attribute statements? (This could be one of your executive officers, or it could be just the brand in general.)
  • Who needs to sign off on statement language? (This should ideally include a skilled writer, a PR professional, and whomever the statement will be attributed to.)
  • Through what channels will the statement be shared? (Channels to consider include social media accounts, press release, your website, your email list, etc.)
  • Who is responsible for sharing the statement on each channel?
  • Who is responsible for monitoring responses to the statement?

Though it may feel like a net loss to pause marketing campaigns or draw back on advertising right now, remember that how a brand responds (or doesn’t respond) in a crisis can have serious impacts to their reputation and their business. In fact, commenting on politics can actually create a lift in engagement. Ben & Jerry’s is a strong example of how taking a stance can send engagement through the roof and set a brand apart from competitors.

Key Takeaways

We’re in uncharted waters — again. But, there are ways to prepare for the unknown and set yourself up for success in navigating the current political climate. Hit pause on business as usual, begin building your crisis response team and process, and, above all, plan to get involved in the conversation — your audience is expecting you to.