Politics, especially in an election year, can create a PR issue for commercial brands, and entire industries, even when you’re not directly involved. If your employees, your investors, or your customers are insulted or ostracized by politicking, it can create negative ripples for your brand. This is why leaders in the tech industry are calling for Senator Lindsey Graham to back off his recent statements about people of Iranian heritage.
During an appearance on "Fox & Friends," Graham, who is riding newfound popularity among the GOP base after coming out hard against Democrats in the recent Kavanaugh hearings, was discussing his potential lineage. During that segment, the senator opined that it would be “terrible” if a DNA test revealed he had Iranian heritage.
When a Graham spokesperson tried to walk the statement back in a later news segment, the mea culpa message failed to hit the mark. Many angry tech industry executives, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs of Iranian heritage immediately released statements demanding Graham apologize.
One, Omid Kordestani, executive chairman of Twitter, who is Iranian by birth, told Graham he should, “start upholding the best values of our great nation and its institutions.”
Hadi Partovi, CEO of Code.org and an investor in Uber, Dropbox, and Facebook, said the comments were insulting. Speaking to CNN, the tech industry leader, who immigrated at the age of 11 to the United States, said he had faced his “fair share” of discrimination in his life, but that he expected better from elected officials. “What I think is most problematic is when the leaders — the folks who are supposed to be role models themselves — are not just excusing but are leading that kind of behavior.”
Others, in addition to calling on Graham to apologize, added a positive spin on the message, taking the opportunity to remind their audience of the positive impact Iranians have had in America, especially in the tech industry.
One, investor Pejman Nozad named several American success stories of Iranian descent, saying, “Most Americans don't realize that companies like EBay or Dropbox are founded by Iranians.”
Some within the tech industry who have been active or vocal in politics for some time now, are using this as a springboard to condemn comments they view as discriminatory to their heritage and religion, as well as to criticize current U.S. immigration policy.
In these cases, they had a message and were waiting for the right time to speak out. Presumably, they also did the Public Relations calculus of determining the right message and the right time. It’s one thing to defend one’s heritage and support your team members or customers who feel alienated by political speech. It’s another thing altogether to draw a distinctly political line in the sand. Graham’s comments have opened up opportunities to do both, and the tech industry is answering. How their customers respond or if the conversation will continue are still open questions.
Ronn Torossian is one of America’s foremost Public Relations executives as founder/CEO of 5WPR, a leading independent public relations Agency. The firm was honored as PR Firm of the Year by The American Business Awards, and has been named to the Inc. 500 List. Torossian is author of the best-selling "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations." For more of Ronn Torossian's reports, Go Here Now.
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