Turn on the news lately? We’ve strayed pretty far away from “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
It’s a minefield, to say the least. Business owners are being dragged to the frontlines of the political battlefield in a maelstrom of tweets, political contributions and employee activism. But, owning your own business doesn’t mean you have to leave your politics at the door.
There’s no magic bullet to keeping your business safe from the wild west 24-hour political news cycle, but we have some tips to keep in mind.
Face facts. Your business’s political footprint can be boiled down to one word: exposure. All political activity, by its nature, is public in one way or another. You are your brand in this day and age. Any donation or employee’s tweet can be easily—albiet unfairly—tied your company. There is no effective “firewall” to keep your personal beliefs from having an impact on the public perception of your business. Knowing exactly who, when and where your company may be touching the political world is the best defense.
The New York Times/Wall Street Journal Test. A good rule of thumb before you do, or more importantly, write anything political, ask yourself, “what if this was on the front page of some of the largest newspapers in the world?” Any hesitation? Drop it right the shredder, hit the delete button, shut the door. If you are not comfortable with whatever you do to be summarized in an email to each of your customers, investors or employees, avoid it.
Set some boundaries. It’s hard to keep your political footprint tidy without any rules. Are your employees aware that they are representatives of your company on and off the clock? Are they making political statements on company time? What if one of your executives is asked to contribute to candidate or political organization? Have a conversation with your legal counsel to see what limits or notices you may need to send to your employees. In many cases, just having a corporate policy regarding these hot-button issues can be enough.
Hire a professional. Look, companies are being forced to interact with Washington, DC whether they want to or not. It’s becoming part of the normal growth process for any business. If your company begins to feel the shadow of Congress looming over your operations, hire a professional. The worst course of action is to spearhead any advocacy strategy without a lobbyist or seasoned legal counsel at the helm. Having a someone help you navigate these rough waters and offer tailored advice will prove to be invaluable.
Even if you don’t have any interest in politics, it doesn’t mean politics isn’t interested in you. Taking these steps can place you, and your business, in firm stance to meet most external challenges down the road. Who knows what tomorrow’s news cycle will bring, or even what will be trending online, but having this discussion is first step to having your business politically-insured for whatever lies ahead.