You’ve heard the phrase “all publicity is good publicity,” but anyone who works in public relations knows that’s not always the case, especially in our current political climate. Just one political post can alienate half of your customer base, and winning them back won’t be easy.

This past year, we’ve seen an increase in crisis PR business resulting from political backlash. With the growth of social media and the rise of ‘Cancel Culture,’ the consequences can be quick and brutal.  

While we certainly don’t enjoy seeing any business struggle with reputation management or an unfair PR situation, we are proud to support clients as they navigate the challenging media landscape, to ultimately help minimize the damage to their brands and their bottom lines.

It’s likely going to be another divisive political year. Here are a few ways to protect your brand, and your bottom line, from political backlash. 

Don’t Take a Public Stance

Recent elections have become particularly hostile, and you’re likely to have customers on both sides of the aisle who are passionate about their stance. With rising political tensions, the last thing you want to do is alienate customers by publicly siding with one party or candidate.

We work with many organizations and entrepreneurs that make political advocacy and public support a significant part of their personal and professional work. In those cases, their businesses often thrive on such involvement and their audiences or customers have come to expect it. That is not the kind of political involvement we are referring to. 

If you’ve never been involved politically, now may not be the time to test the waters. Take SoulCycle for example: when the chairman of SoulCycle’s parent company hosted a fundraising gala for President Trump’s reelection campaign, social media outrage followed.  The subsequent boycott of the cycling club resulted in a 12.8% drop in SoulCycle purchases the next month. 

Similar situations can happen with smaller, local businesses too. You may not be hosting fundraising galas for your favorite candidate, but your social media posts can do a similar amount of damage to your brand. The election will end, but the backlash from your social media rant may not. Especially if you voice it online, where your opinions will live forever. 

Your best bet for avoiding a PR crisis is to avoid politics altogether. If your brand and its leadership can manage to avoid taking a public stance on the election, you’re much more likely to avoid any kind of backlash. 

Focus On Causes That Matter To Your Brand

If the situation arises where your business needs to take a stance and cannot remain silent on a politically charged issue, instead of openly declaring your support for one candidate or party, funnel your energy into a cause that aligns with your brand. Focus on an issue you are passionate about and that the majority of your customers would accept.

In 2018, Patagonia, which announced that it would donate its estimated $10 million tax break to environmental organizations. This was a really good PR move considering Patagonia is an outdoor apparel brand, and the majority of its customers likely support protecting the environment.

Besides your customers, it’s also important to consider how your stance will affect your investors, vendors, and employees.

Be Prepared to Apologize

The best way to handle a PR crisis is to avoid one altogether, but if it’s too late, consider a heartfelt apology and efforts to make it right. In our experience, the businesses that own up to their mistakes and simply apologize are the ones that recover fastest. 

Just remember that your brand’s reputation can be damaged in an instant. Have a crisis PR plan, and think twice before sharing your political opinions. Those opinions can damage your brand long after the election ends. 

If you do choose to use your platform to support a candidate of your choice, we highly recommend being prepared to address the response to customers, employees, and the media. A PR agency or experienced consultant can help you prepare for these situations.