President Trump loves to communicate directly to his constituency by tweeting about all sorts of things at all hours of the day (and night).
While many Americans applaud the president’s accessibility and admire his candor, those tweets have consequences.
They can make or break your brand.
The President Tweets
Incoming and sitting presidents traditionally refrained from directly endorsing products. While the president is exempt from a law that bans executive-branch employees from making product endorsements, his tweets and policies have a significant impact on brands.
Recently we’ve seen how corporations, especially in the technology sector, are reacting to the President’s executive order on immigration. Lyft pledged $1 million to the ACLU over the next four years, while Uber’s CEO dropped out of the President’s Business Advisory Council.
We’ve also seen how the president’s tweets can inadvertently damage a brand. Linda Bean, the granddaughter of the founder of L.L. Bean, learned this the hard way when President Trump tweeted:
The Federal Election Commission accused Linda Bean of making excessive contributions to a political action committee in support of Mr. Trump. During a TV interview, Ms. Bean disputed the claim and stated that she only donated $25,000, which is still $20,000 over the maximum limit. The president tweeted shortly after the segment aired.
While the president’s supporters are quick to tweet about their purchases from L.L. Bean, the brand has also landed on #GrabYourWallet, a list of companies that either sell the Trump family’s (including Ivanka) products, advertise on Celebrity Apprentice, or have CEOs that endorsed or raised money for Mr. Trump.
The Tech Example
On February 5, nearly 100 companies filed an amicus brief supporting the Washington state attorney general’s suit to halt President Trump’s executive order on immigration. Although the majority of these employers are in tech, several are not, including Chobani and KIND. It’s nearly impossible to run our businesses without using Google, Apple, Facebook, DineDash, Snapchat, or many of the other tech companies that signed the brief. How will this activism impact your relationship with them as vendors? How will you react if a customer calls you out on social media for serving Chobani?
Thus far we haven’t seen a restaurant company join a friend of the court brief on immigration, or even make a statement about the immigration executive order. This is a missed opportunity. During the Global Best Practices Conference, Professor James Johnson Jr gave us a lot of insight into how changing demographics, including immigration, diversity, and our aging population will continue to change our workforce.
Your Industry’s Reputation
We’ve seen how quickly the president takes to Twitter to vent his outrage. Imagine, then, that you run a restaurant with compliance issues. What will Mr. Trump tweet if your restaurant has a food borne illness? What if you run a retail establishment and grocery store, and you discover you've employed an undocumented worker? Sourced from a country that is out of favor with the president? Any of these compliance, messaging, sourcing, or immigration storms can pop up at any time.
Companies need to get their reputational houses in order locally and nationally. Most industries are very needy and don't give back a lot. We don’t usuallyt go into legislative offices and offer to solve a problem. Instead, we ask what government can do for us. These aren’t the kind of companies that either the public or legislators want to work with.
So, why don’t we change that? The restaurant, retail, and hospitality industries employ more people than almost any other industry, and those jobs aren’t going to be offshored or replaced with technology in the near future.
Companies and their industry groups have an opportunity to become a de facto workforce development agency. They can, and should, go to the president and say, “We’re going to create 1 million middle-class jobs by 2025.” Sure, this is aspirational, but it also frees industries up from fighting one bill at a time. Most importantly, this is an example of a goal that the restaurant, hospitality, and retail industries can attain.
The Walmart Example
Walmart regularly makes ambitious aspirational commitments to cities and states. They make promises to donate to local electric grids over the next ten years and make commitments to use sustainable fuel. They also commit to big goals that the president can get behind, such as on-sourcing $50M in manufacturing.
We all know that “what gets measured gets done”, so Walmart also gives each municipality and state a report card on their progress towards their goals. By building relationships, one city at a time, they eliminated the threat of having state and local legislatures attack them.
Walmart no longer opposes minimum wage legislation, either. They know that they can’t win that battle with their customers or with their city and state. So instead, they talk about workforce development and their foundation puts hundreds of millions of dollars into job training commitments through the Opportunity pillar of the Walmart Foundation. The Foundation explains how minimum wage increases will impact those goals. Walmart has significantly changed their reputation about their workers and their impact on the community.
Retailers, Restauranteurs, and Hospitality Companies Have Foundations, Too
We’ve seen some non-profits in the restaurant industry step up to the challenge of making a difference in their communities and the lives of their employees. Chad Houser of Café Momentum trains young adults who exited the juvenile detention system. Ruth Thompson employs special needs adults at Hugs Café.
Like Walmart, major retail, restaurant, and hospitality chains usually have foundations. What if chain operators opened a few of these concepts across the country as part of their foundation efforts? This would make a much more lasting impact on your community, employees, and brand than a mere tweet.