Campaigning for Corporate Reputation
By Steve Behm
As the 2012 Republican primary battle continues, voters are both passive audiences and ultimate protagonists. On the one side, voters of all persuasions are passive audiences of the national media’s attention on the race, throttled by political advertising blitzes, news segments campaign literature and annoying robo-calls. On the other side, these same voters become ultimate decision makers as they fulfill their constitutional rights and elect their candidates.
Companies, like voters, have the opportunity to be both audience and protagonist. On the one side, companies listen to candidates’ positions on issues such as labor, trade and regulatory principles. On the other, enterprising companies activate as protagonists as they showcase issues that are important to them. The last three years of the Trust Barometer clearly indicate that the trust quotient of companies and government are tied to each other. If companies fail to exercise their corporate voice, they do so at their own peril. Political candidates probably won’t do it for them.
What is the immediate opportunity for business? During the next six months of political campaigning, companies have a rare, once-every-four-year opportunity to advance and protect their corporate reputation.
Some companies may question the judgment of entering the political arena at all. The risk, some may fear, is being attacked for showing favoritism to one party over another. The reality is, however, that every company is a media company – and needs to participate in the public conversation. All companies can earn a license to lead by fully communicating through mainstream media, their corporate online resources, and shared and hybrid channels. Plenty of content exists, too — nothing is more pressing, more public and more dominant in today’s media than the political process.
Thoughtful companies which successfully participate in the political process find unique and safe ways to steer candidates in their direction. Consider the classic candidate plant tour. It’s a photo-op for a would-be President. It’s an educational moment for a will-be corporate constituent. These are preferable and favorable first impressions and can be largely managed by the companies themselves (unlike an unexpected visit from a government official or regulator, which is a very different political moment and one not likely to be as controllable.) There is a line between politics and policy, but the individuals involved are one in the same. Getting a chance to know these stakeholders ahead of an issue, challenge or change in regulatory policy is critical to building and maintaining a predictable marketplace and trust. The national election environment is one such chance.
The gain for companies who participate in the process is palpable. It is a shared, public reputation with their stakeholders. These stakeholders influence issues that affect business, but they also can endorse and advance corporate reputations. For example, President Obama mentioned Google and Facebook in his State of the Union address, comparing them to the likes of the Wright Brothers and calling them examples of an “economic revolution” — prime billing for these two companies. Hundreds more speeches and debates will occur before November 6th – and a lot of opportunities to be called out as a success. Angling for mentions along the way on the campaign trail are win-wins for corporate communicators from the CEO on down.
But the clock is ticking. Agendas for governing are being set now – and promises are being made to voters. These agendas will be activated over the course of a four-year, presidential term. Failing to create a share of voice now immediately puts companies into a defensive bunker of “should’ve, would’ve, could’ve.” The outcome for not participating in the political process is the threat of being benched on the sidelines. It’s a risk few companies should be willing to take.