Have you ever stood at the grocery store trying to decide which pasta to buy and thought about the CEO of one pasta company making a political statement? You remember you didn’t appreciate what she said, but you really prefer how that pasta cooks. Or maybe you agreed with her, but their pasta tastes like eating rubber bands.
That CEO’s political statement didn’t persuade you one way or another. That is small “p” politics, and it is a type of social risk. Other consumers may very well avoid that pasta brand, or swear by it, because of the CEO’s stands on issues. It’s something that CEO should have thought through before taking the stand, but it’s still small “p” politics.
The other is big “P” politics, the back and forth between parties and who wins or loses. For those companies that take no public dollars or those organizations that never have to engage with the government, you can stop reading now.
Oh wait, you are all still here.
Social risk can come from a groundswell. It can also come from on high.
If you are an institution of higher education that is publicly funded, you walk this tight rope every day. In Virginia this month, the newly elected Attorney General fired two attorneys: one at the University of Virginia and one at George Mason University. It made the news but he did the same thing his predecessor had done eight years before and his successor will likely do. That’s the nature of big “P” politics.
If you are a leader of or strategic communicator for these universities though, you have to factor in those kinds of abrupt political changes and the operational and reputational fallout that comes with them. And it can seem like a no-win situation.
If you are a heavily regulated industry like telecommunications or airlines (or social media companies), you are regularly hauled before Congress or a regulatory body, and you must understand what this landscape looks like and how it fits into, and disrupts, your strategy.
So while it is critical that you keep your ear to the ground, it is just as critical that you keep open lines of communication with your government affairs people. Communication and government affairs must go hand-in-hand especially when it comes to social risk and big “P” politics.
A stand you take as a company may be 180 degrees different from your governor, which could invite more scrutiny. Not only does your government affairs team need to know about the decision, but also they need to be involved in making it. And vice versa, government affairs decisions can’t be made in a vacuum. The communications team needs to know what that CEO is going to tell Congress – the government affairs team doesn’t take media calls.
This is the type of information sharing that is critical in preparing your teams to handle social (a lot of times political) risk. Part of preparing your response or even trying to mitigate the threat is understanding who matters to you and what matters to them. And it requires understanding what you truly stand for, and against, when it really matters.
That assessment can’t be made with just a comms team. It can’t be made just with legal. It can’t be made just by government affairs. From your board on down, there has to be buy in, willingness to live the values and willingness to engage to find out what you stand for.
This really is a team effort. And we’re happy to be part of it.