The murky waters of public relations and taking a political stance
Times are changing in the world of public relations. A few years ago, a company could slide on by without disclosing any political interest. Today, silence alone can drag you into the world of cancel culture. This year has brought us illness, societal change, and a country in distress and in a war of political divide. In this new reality, consumers are calling for brands to outline their values and beliefs. How to do this without torching your image is the tricky part.
This past June, social media exploded with posts supporting the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. During this time, consumers flocked to influencers and brands to see if they showed support for the movement. If they weren't taking a stance on social issues, users would urge them to use their voice and speak out.
Natasha Fischer, famously known for her Instagram page “@traderjoeslist” is just one of the influencers slammed for not speaking out about social issues. When taking to Instagram to change this, she mistakenly followed her now-deleted post with the hashtag, “all lives matter.” This statement was seen as opposing the BLM movement entirely, causing even more backlash. She later went back to Instagram to apologize for her mistake while shedding light on the hate she received.
This push for taking a stance can now be seen in all areas of a company’s image. There is a fine line between choosing to ignore what is going on in our world and being ignorant. If you are going to take a political stance the three most important things you can do is be transparent, consistent, and original.
Be transparent. When taking a stance, do not be vague. Do not give consumers room to question your motives. If you are affiliated with another company or brand that has strong political beliefs then be open about it. Chic-fil-A is a perfect example of this. This fast-food chain has been openly conservative when taking a political stance. Until recently, the chain was donating to organizations that had strong anti-LGBTQ stances. Despite a few protests, the brand overall remained extremely successful. But on the other hand, they could be the exception. Maybe people would just overlook anything for a good chicken sandwich.
Be consistent. If you are going to advocate for issues such as gun control, abortion, or climate change (all issues that will ignite a political stance), you better have the means to back it up. You can do this by donating to foundations that support each cause or by simply holding the stance. If you vocalize concern for climate change, make sure you aren’t driving any gas-guzzling vehicles or selling a lot of wasteful plastic. You wouldn’t want to advocate for something you wouldn’t follow yourself. Governor Gavin Newsom, unfortunately, learned that the hard way.
Be original. This one may not come as obvious but it is extremely important. If you are going to have a voice, do not post a bland tweet repeating what another brand stated. Especially on Twitter, which is the very first place you will get called out for insincerity. Always remember, deleted tweets never die.
Even if you are lucky enough to avoid taking a political stance, you should always use your voice to promote civil duties. You can stay neutral but should always encourage others to use their voice and be involved by voting or standing up for what they believe in.
If all else fails, be sure to have a crisis communications plan. Apologies can be delicate ground, but that is a whole new conversation.
By Bobbie Resnik
Bobbie is a senior at San Diego State University studying Journalism with an emphasis in Public Relations. She will graduate with a double major in Psychology and Journalism. After graduation, she wishes to pursue a career in event planning and social media.