Once upon a time, in a more genteel era, politics was a subject to be avoided in polite conversation. An individual’s partisan leanings were considered personal – and bringing them out in the open was simply distasteful.
What was true for individuals went double for business. Politics was handled below the radar, discussed at retreats, receptions and in private rooms with policymakers. Alienating a portion of the customer base or employees with political pronouncements in public was considered risky and unnecessary. Better to deal with issues quietly and without interference by those who did not always have the time to fully grasp the complexities and nuances of successfully running major businesses.
The internet era changed that dynamic – and the Covid pandemic obliterated it. Now, everything is political. Everything is public. And everything is discussed, dissected and disagreeably argued in the modern-day public square.
When we put on our sneakers, drink our coffee or watch the news, we align with or endorse a political identity. Our favorite brands have become red or blue; woke or anti-woke. The voices we trust are segregated. Many of us live in a bubble shaped by false narratives, victimhood or belief that those who look or think differently are not to be trusted. Our partisan allegiance is validated as we scroll on our mobile devices.
For business leaders today, understanding this new landscape is critical for success. They must appreciate how policy, culture, reputation and risk now intersect.
Corporate actions are now above the radar
Today, corporate actions can no longer be pursued below the radar. Political giving, personnel issues and policy agendas are all tracked to a microscopic degree and often shared by disgruntled employees or critics with the public.
Social and political polarization has created two Americas whose citizens barely talk to each other and whose legislators frequently choose to shout at rather than work with each other. As a result, brands in the public square are caught in partisan crossfire. There is no neutral ground. Seeking cover in any direction will alienate a sizable portion of the public and an important contingent of elected officials.
The rise of identity politics and the polarization of America has created a complex set of challenges for businesses. C-suites are now expected to join the culture war cacophony – and emerge unscathed.
We’re built to solve these challenges.
Supporting businesses in this new climate requires bringing innovative tools, policy and issue expertise to the table, alongside an intersectional way of working across regions and practices. We have deep expertise in the politics of the world’s capitals, informing insights into decision-making and strategies that best prepare leaders to navigate policy debates in a highly polarized environment. All done with a constant, thoughtful eye towards balancing the interests of various stakeholders and mitigating both reputational and business risk.
Public affairs is a business imperative
A world where everything is political is a world where the mundane can become controversial and missteps can become a crisis in a flash. Businesses must purposefully match their actions and values, think critically to identify coming challenges and remain agile in the face of change. Prevention used to be worth an ounce of cure. Now, it is valued by the ton.
To be successful, businesses must know when, how, where and if to show up in the modern-day public square. As public affairs specialists with a profound appreciation of the complexities of business, we’ve watched this blue-red devolution with urgent interest. Backed by our deep expertise, we’re built to assist our clients in navigating these new and troubled waters.