Business + Publicity

Avoiding Political PR Backlash: Advice for businesses and entrepreneurs

October 24, 2016

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You’ve heard the saying, “All publicity is good publicity” but that’s not the case with politics where you can quickly alienate a significant portion of your customers.

Whether it be with a yard sign or a Facebook post, declaring your support for one candidate or disdain for another can have potentially damaging long-term effects on your brand, your business and ultimately, your bottom line.

Before you voice your political opinions, consider the following to protect your business from becoming a political casualty of the 2016 election:

  1. Don’t take a public stance.

This election is being called one of the most polarizing in US history. Chances are, you have customers who are passionate about their political beliefs, from both sides. Political tension is boiling over from the boardroom to the bedroom. Do you really want your business to be one more thing to turn away half of your customers or clients this election season?

A business in Tennessee learned this the hard way when they dressed up their mascots as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, along with a sign that read “Life is a beach. Don’t elect one.” The political display created an onslaught of customer complaints online, news coverage and the City Attorney’s Office got involved to consider code violations.

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This is probably the only tip you need to avoid a political crisis. If you’ve made it this far without taking a public stance on the election, congratulations! You only have a couple more weeks to go. Hang in there, you can do it!

  1. If you must take a public stance, make it a safer one.

With total disregard for tip #1 and the reputation of your business, you’re going public. Well, there’s still some hope.

Instead of openly declaring your support for one candidate or taking a firm stance on a controversial issue, funnel your energy on a cause you are passionate about and one that the majority of your customers would accept.

For example, you could get behind organizations that support education, work to end domestic violence, or house the homeless, all topics that probably won’t offend your target audience.

  1. The election will end. The backlash from your social media rant may not.

It’s hard to imagine right now, but in just a couple weeks, a new President will be elected, people will react, and eventually, they will move on with their lives.

While their memories of this political circus will fade, their feelings about your beliefs may not, especially if you voice it online, where your opinions will live forever.

Just this week, a small pizza shop in Michigan posted a politically-charged post on its Facebook page. Within hours, it received over a thousand reactions, shares and comments, spreading like mozzarella over a hot pizza pie throughout the social interwebs, eventually getting the attention of a local news station.

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Comments included “business suicide” and many customers declaring to boycott the business while also leaving bad reviews on other sites.

Even if the business owner decides to delete the post, it will continue to live on in the hundreds of people who’ve shared it, screen captured it and uploaded it in other places.

  1. Consider your employees, vendors and investors.

The image of a brand impacts more than just the business owner.

Consider the effects your public statements can have on those who are associated with your brand, including employees, vendors, partners and investors.

These valuable relationships could suffer if you choose to wear your politics on your sleeve and may prevent people from wanting to work with you in the future.

  1. Be prepared to apologize.

Obviously, the best way to handle a PR crisis is to avoid creating one altogether (see #1 above). If it’s too late and you need to do damage control, consider a heartfelt apology.

If my degree and experience in PR has taught me anything about crisis management, it is that the businesses that own up to their mistakes and issue an apology, usually recover the fastest.

Remember, your brand’s reputation can be damaged in an instant. Think twice before sharing your political opinions and consider the consequences it may have on your business long after the election is over.

 

 

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