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If President-elect Donald J. Trump calls – or tweets – are you ready? For CEOs, generals counsel and communications officers, the customary way of engaging with the executive branch will need re-thinking, or at a minimum, a new element of planning. This uncharted territory places a premium on preparation, because as Warren Buffett famously – and correctly – mused, “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”
Seventeen months since the president-elect entered the Republican primary, major companies and brands should be thinking about – not if the president will turn his attention toward them – but when and why. No matter the source of the surprise or issue, preparation before a crisis is one of best investments a company can make to protect its reputation, bottom line, and employees. And, unfortunately, in our work here at APCO, we experience brands being blindsided by crises that are both predictable and preventable.
Thankfully, we have learned that the president-elect is predictably unpredictable with his ability to drag companies into the spotlight. He set his sights on Carrier during his campaign, throwing the heating, air-conditioning, and refrigerator manufacturer into primetime. Now, days after a deal was announced to keep jobs in Indiana, pundits, reporters, and policy-elites continue to scrutinize the deal and, in turn, Carrier. Next, with one tweet, President-elect Trump took aim at his own ride in the sky by calling out Boeing for the potential price tag of the Air Force One contract. As a result, Boeing’s stock took a hit – and CEO Dennis Muilenburg had a conversation with President-elect Trump about canceling the government contract.
Unexpected attention from the president-elect can also tilt toward the positive for companies. For example, President-elect Trump’s tweet announcing a potential SoftBank Group deal drove up the company’s shares and has led to increased media attention. Even when responding to news in positive circumstances, though, it is important for companies to be prepared.
Not only can the president-elect’s tweets and calls pull companies into the spotlight, but so can those in his political orbit.
While these examples may not seem like a typical “crisis,” these incidents have all the ingredients of a crisis that a company should be prepared to address:
- Increased media and stakeholder attention;
- Questions regarding the company’s commitment to employees and its community; and
- Involvement in a hyper-political environment.
There are several proactive steps companies can – and should – take to protect their brand from these occurrences that can harm reputations. Here are a few:
- Self-reflect – Hold up the mirror – think carefully about your company, its mission, operations, products and services, suppliers, leadership and locations. How could any of your company’s assets become a target or soft spot? Are there steps you can take now to lessen your vulnerability without sacrificing your company’s mission? Thorough self-examination can help you identify where trouble might strike.
- Listen & Monitor – Listening takes place in many forms and across many platforms. If you haven’t started now, you will need to engage in several types of listening and monitoring – traditional and digital – to understand the new operating environment.
- Traditional Media – is the media paying attention to your company? If so, is the coverage balanced, favorable, or hurtful? Is it time to engage with key reporters?
- Internal Listening – what are employees and company stakeholders concerned about? What can the company do to address and assuage concerns?
- External Listening – what is being said about the company on social media? Among influencers? Pundits? Policy-elites?
- Issue and Policy Monitoring – what issues are being discussed that may (or will) impact the company? Similarly, what policies are being proposed or implemented?
- President-elect Monitoring – tracking the president-elect’s recent Twitter targets and statements could be key to predicting whether your company is next.
- Prepare – Using the data gathered from ongoing listening and monitoring, companies need to then prepare for a potential crisis based on identified vulnerabilities and impactful issues.
- Cross-functional Management Team – in issue-specific crises, it is important for companies to have a designated task force with key decision makers to quickly implement the pre-established strategy.
- Scenario Planning – by developing scenario specific plans, a company can have resources identified and ready to be deployed for many types of crisis scenarios in the event one occurs.
- Spokesperson Identification – identifying the appropriate spokespeople for different situations/stakeholders is critical.
- Crisis Simulation – if time and resources permit, crisis simulations and training are an excellent way to ensure that a company is ready to respond when called upon.
- Message Testing – it is important to understand how your responses will resonate with key stakeholders and by developing key messages before a crisis – and testing them – a company will be well prepared to effectively communicate with stakeholders.
In our new reality, listening, monitoring, and being prepared for the spotlight should be a focus for all companies. Preparation is key to be able to activate during a crisis, evaluate after a crisis, and maintain the company’s reputation in the days and weeks following increased attention and scrutiny. Let us know your thoughts and ideas, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at us @apcoworldwide. And learn more about PROspective, APCO’s proven approach to crisis communication and management.
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