As a brand, if you have supported a candidate or a public figure in the past, what do you do when they say or do something that could cause your brand some trouble? There are a lot of factors that inform that decision, and the case of AT&T and Congressman Steve King illustrates these choices and the messaging behind them.
According to various media accounts, AT&T’s employee PAC has said it will “no longer make contributions” to Rep. Steve King, a congressman from Iowa. The issue that prompted the decision, according to the announcement, is the scrutiny King has come under due to his comments related to white nationalist groups.
In part, the statement read: “We want to let you know that the AT&T employees who manage the disbursements of our employee PAC have now had the opportunity to review the controversy regarding Rep. Steve King, and have determined that the PAC will not make future... ...contributions to him. The committee concluded that further support of Rep. King would not be consistent with one of our core values…”
AT&T was not the only company to take this stand in relation to King. Intel and Land O’Lakes are among others that have released public comments rescinding their support for King.
The lesson, here, is that many brands are, justifiably, reconsidering their connections with political officials and other public figures. The current media environment distributes news with an immediacy many are not prepared to manage, and there are some outlets always on the lookout for brands or big names that support people and causes with which they disagree.
Today, if you are seen as financially supporting or tied to a specific person or position, you are often seen as advocating that position or person wholly and entirely. That may not be the case, but, often, perception is reality.
The question, then, becomes: is the benefit I get from this association enough to offset any damage this association could do to my brand or reputation? If you can’t answer that question, you have some communication work to do.
And, if you’re not fully prepared to offer a clear and powerful counter narrative to Public Relations attacks related to endorsements, it may be a good idea to hold off on those endorsements until you have a communications plan in place.
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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