This week, I’m looking forward to catching up with contacts in person and comparing notes about business, which is one of the benefits of attending the Mackinac Policy Conference.
I’ll be asked in conversation about trends and expect to talk about what’s happening as businesses try to withstand the front lines of the culture wars. That’s actually one of the key items the organizer of the Conference, our client the Detroit Regional Chamber, asked in its pre-Conference survey of Michigan voters. The poll shows 66 percent, including a majority of every political stripe, believe businesses have a role in social issues.
If that translates into any kind of comparable national number, you wouldn’t know it from recent events. The culture wars have even landed at the front door of Target, that company that has bucked the “brick and mortar” retail trends (see Bed, Bath and Beyond, among many others) and set fashion trends (see kids in Nirvana t-shirts in every suburb). Target executives know how to run a successful business. As of last week, the company’s stock was up 100% in the past five years.
But as I had the opportunity to explain in a live interview on WJR-AM last week (listen here), the company apparently didn’t see its own situation through a 2023 lens. What may have worked in the past is suddenly a “controversy.” Political strategists have businesses in their sights and can mobilize quickly, seemingly instantly. It’s imperative now for companies that are going to make any business decision that can be painted as advocacy to prepare for controversy and communicate accordingly.
The key is to anticipate the most likely scenarios ahead of time and craft plans accordingly. Target has shown us that not only are communications plans essential, but security plans are as well because the culture wars aren’t just about words on screens, when they arrive at your doorstep they can bring violence.
In recent weeks, we have been inside a client’s office discussing what could happen when political agendas could include backlash against it. We are working together to plan approaches that match scenarios that, in today’s climate, are not farfetched.
Here’s what I plan to tell contacts on the famous Grand Hotel porch this week: You may not see your work as political, but chances are, someone in politics does. Everything is political now. Vaccines are political. Beer is political. Merchandise in a store that nobody is required to shop in that nobody is required to look at, that certainly nobody is required by buy, is political. Someone not too far out there could try to score points by taking you on for what you think is an otherwise good business decision. A different kind of crisis is coming. Get ready to communicate.