For companies getting into politics, or getting pulled into politics, it’s time to start adopting the tools of the trade. Barely a week passes without an example of a company struggling to calibrate between their different stakeholder groups.
The difficulties are understandable. After all, companies are not election campaign organizations! They don’t have the same skills, people, or goals. But there are tools of a campaign team that can be applied to start avoiding some of the traps that companies are falling into.
One such technique on the campaign trail is vetting – a meticulous process that aims to mitigate negative news cycles resulting from awkward associations, problematic endorsements, or controversial event locations. Most people have heard of vetting as a part of the Vice-Presidential selection process, but the truth is vetting activities happen on campaigns daily. There is no diner a candidate steps into and no endorsement accepted that hasn’t been assessed for potential vulnerabilities by a team working continuously to screen these announcements.
Drawing from this political playbook, corporate leaders should adapt the vetting process to suit their organizational needs and mitigate potential reputational risks. High profile ads, endorsements, sponsorships, statements, and donations should all be going through a lens of scrutiny to identify potential political and cultural risks, and additional or alternative options for engagement with stakeholders.
These efforts must be thorough to be effective. With the diffusion of media in recent years, reputational work and marketing are spread across thousands of efforts in any organization. But when one misstep can cost billions in value, it’s time to re-evaluate risk assessment. Nothing is too small to examine in today’s environment.
This approach means more internal scrutiny, research, and budget for any organization facing these issues. Developing tailored sources of data on issues and stakeholders is a critical input. Figuring out what the right staff or support looks like to implement a vetting program is also vital: A team that doesn’t look or think like the company’s stakeholders is going to have blind spots on the political and cultural issues they are trying to defuse.
This doesn’t mean companies can’t engage on the issues of the day. If they do so authentically, and in a way that is mindful of all their different stakeholders, it is possible for companies to be deft and responsive to events and provide leadership within their communities.
The corporate fumbles we have seen in recent months would be avoidable with robust vetting operations in place. As politics increasingly intersects with the business realm, blindly wandering through political minefields is going to cause more problems for those who aren’t prepared. The tools to avoid these challenges are available. It’s time for companies to start using them.