Should Your Small Business Respond to Trump?

A lot of people are scared right now.

I’ve been open about the fact that I did not vote for Trump, and I don’t support his policies around the wall, immigration, or the Muslim ban. But that’s not what I’m writing about.

Today I want to talk to you about the conversations I’ve been having with other business owners around the news coming out of the White House.

From calls to boycott U.S. businesses to concerned citizens feeling they can’t or shouldn’t promote their work to anecdotal evidence that customers are slower to buy programs or products, many business owners are feeling like their position in the economy is precarious.

​Embedded in these conversations are questions like, “Is it okay to post my product to Instagram when there’s a refugee ban in effect?” or “How can I go ahead with my offer with everything that’s happening?”

should your business respond to trump?
That’s what I want to cover today, because I’m in a unique position to weigh in on these conversations. My job is helping you communicate with your audience, and my background is in public affairs and crisis PR. Thinking through thorny communication challenges is precisely the work I’m trained to do.

​​I pulled together some of the questions and concerns that have been coming up the most in the past few days, so I can share with you how I approach these questions from a PR perspective.

First the biggie:

​Should I respond to what’s going on, or do I ignore it and carry on as usual?

​There are two aspects to this question: your personal values as an individual, and the values and desires of your audience.  As an individual, you may or may not feel called to comment on what’s going on. I obviously can’t counsel you on that.

But no matter where you stand, you should also take into consideration what your audience wants and expects from your business. Different audience segments will respond differently to both public proclamations or silence. It’s easy to think that staying about the fray is the neutral choice, but that’s not always the case.

Let me give you examples on the opposite ends of the spectrum to help you think through this.

​​If you run an advocacy organization in the U.S., it would clearly be wrong not to comment on executive orders with such sweeping implications, because presumably helping your audience respond to events like these is part of your mission. I think we can all agree on that.

On the flip side, I follow a couple of makeup bloggers (don’t judge me!), and their content hasn’t referenced the election at all. I can appreciate that decision — no matter where these bloggers stand on the issues, they know their audience can get that info elsewhere and still enjoys their tutorials.

It makes sense that these blogs stay on mission, no matter what their personal positions are. ​​

But many of our businesses are somewhere in the middle, especially when you get into the coaching or wellness arenas. Or even art, in many cases.​​

In making the decision on whether you want to use your business as a forum to speak out about world events, look to your audience.

If you’re connected to your audience through social media, it’s easy to tell right now how people are feeling.  ​

Are your customers complaining about companies who in their orbit who aren’t taking a stand? ​​If the answer is yes, you should probably say something — even if only to post something that acknowledges how people are feeling right now. It doesn’t have to be a partisan or political statement.​

On the other hand, if your audience is saying, “Get over it,” think twice before posting a political message right now.

You do no one any good be jeopardizing your economic livelihood​ — and you’re not going to change any hearts or minds by posting how you feel to your business’s Facebook account.

There are other ways you can contribute to the resistance. Donate proceeds to the ACLU. Go to marches. Call your Congresspeople.

I’ve long felt like John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods and noted Libertarian, is laughing his way to the bank as he takes all that income from liberals and donates it to Republicans and Libertarians. This could be your form of protest.

Does this answer change if I don’t want to work with people who think the wall, deportations, etc are a good idea?

​Actually, yes!

​To me, the best part of running a business is that you get to choose who you want to work with. Never believe people who tell you otherwise.

The key to working with clients who are in alignment with your values is to be vocal about those values.

​This is the push-pull of communications. The way you choose your customers is by deliberately using language, examples and content that turns off the people you don’t want to serve and attracts those you do.

It’s actually why I decided to share. If a Trump supporter reads this and decides I’m not right for them, I’m 100% okay with that. I get to choose who I help through the art of PR, and I choose to help people whose values and mission are aligned with mine.

If you’re not in a position where you can be turning work away, then what I’d encourage you to do is start a slow transition through the rest of your messaging. What can you do to signal to your audience a little bit more about your values?

I feel weird about posting product or happy images to social media right now. Should I stop?

​When I woke up on Saturday, I saw a few launches announced on Instagram. And you know what, this didn’t bother me at all.

Some had been vocal about their beliefs, so I knew where they stood. Others had never posted anything, and I didn’t fault them for continuing to run their businesses.

But that’s just me.

​​This is another area where you should think of your customer. How does she feel?

If you’re not sure, it can be useful to delay, instead of cancel, your scheduled content.

Was a shocking announcement just made that will affect thousands of people? Maybe wait a day or two to post about your product in development.

​​Is your audience in mourning on social media? Can you post something that feels appropriate to that tone, even if you don’t feel the same way?

One last thing as you think through these questions. ​It’s important to remember that your audience is looking to your company for ideas and insight, and if you delve too deeply into politics you could distract from that mission.

What do you want to be known for? What role, if any, does responding to the Trump administration or world events play in that?​​

I know you might have questions about applying these tips to your own business, or very specific concerns I didn’t address here.

I’ve been thinking about how I could help with that. 

I’ve opened up a series of 6 mini-sessions on my schedule this Wednesday for people who want to talk through if and how your business should respond to the Trump administration.

I know this offer isn’t relevant to everyone, but I wanted to make myself available for people in that murky middle ground.

Each session is 30-minutes long and costs $150.  Not only will I donate 100% of the proceeds from these sessions to the ACLU, I will personally match them 1:1.

To make that clear, when you schedule a 30-minute session, I will donate your payment of $150 to the ACLU and match it with my own donation of $150.

Please note that these sessions are limited to questions and conversations around communicating in the midst of the political turmoil in the U.S. and are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

If this is something that would be helpful for you, click here to sign up. You will first be able to reserve 30 minutes on my schedule this Wednesday (February 1) and then you will be directed to make the payment.

Click here to schedule a mini session this week.

And if you have a question you’d like me to address in a future blog post, please hit me up on Twitter.

My Big Why

“Go out into the world and do well. But more importantly, go out into the world and do good.”

— Minor Myers

Minor Myers was president of Illinois Wesleyan University when I was a student there, majoring in creative writing and dabbling in political science, philosophy and working on my Spanish language skills.

As I look ahead to a new year, I wanted to share this quote with you, as it sums up perfectly the balance I’ve always tried to achieve in my work. For me, professional success is not only a measure of how much money you make or the respect you earn (although those do matter to me), but also of how much good you’re able to do in the world.

Through my first PR agency job, I chanced into public affairs, and I credit much of my path with that lucky accident.

Public affairs is a specialization focused on government relations. Either you work on behalf of the government to help them educate the public around a certain program or policy, or your client is a corporation hoping to influence public opinion and legislators in favor of their preferred policies.

I loved working at this firm, where I got to work on campaigns for the AFL-CIO and Planned Parenthood. But, alas, I was one of 9 interns, and only one was to be hired.

My next job was in the public affairs division of one of the largest PR agencies in the world, where I worked on government, corporate and nonprofit clients. At this firm, I had so many amazing opportunities. Speech writing for CEOs, working closely with major news outlets in Chicago, and learning from some of the best talent in the industry.

But there was also a shadow side to working for a big agency — I didn’t get to choose my assignments. And, inevitably, I spent quite a bit of time on what I felt to be the wrong side of a controversial public issue.

It was still early in my career, but I saw that if I wanted to pick the issues I represented, I would need to strike out on my own.

But I knew I wasn’t ready to go alone. I needed to gain more experience first. I worked at another, smaller agency, where I gained experience in corporate PR and then, finally, worked at a nonprofit trade organization as their marketing director.

Four years went by before I felt prepared to strike out alone. My consulting business has taken many twists and turns for the past 5 and a half years, but one thing has remained constant.

I’ve stayed true to my commitment to only work with clients whose ideas and projects I believe in.

I’ve turned away more business than I’ve accepted, and the projects I do take on are incredibly fulfilling. Even though the sectors I work in vary dramatically, I get a lot of personal joy from being a part of my clients’ successes.

In other words…

Never believe anyone who tells you that you can’t pick your clients!

I’ve recently started to see how forging my own path allows me the freedom to take on meaningful personal projects as well. A good example of this is when I took 2 weeks off to volunteer on a presidential campaign in 2016.

I wanted to share my story with you today, because I know how important it is to work with people who are aligned with your values.

I have a lot of new projects that I’m eager to share with you, but first, I wanted to take this moment to help you understand why I do this work and what drives me.

I’ll be back very soon with an update on what’s on deck for 2017.

Happy New Year!

A small reflection before you close the year

I’m heading out in a few to make some final preparations for a Chrismukkuh celebration I’m hosting on Sunday. My husband and I are having a small gathering of friends over for latkes and board games and (if all goes well) lots of laughter.

I know you may be already signed out for the holidays, but I’m also very aware that not everyone feels particularly merry or happy this time of year. Not just on a personal level, but the feeling that you haven’t met all your goals can infect the season with a sense of dissatisfaction.

If this is you, or even if it’s not, I wanted to pop in and urge you to spend a little time in reflection of all that went well this year.

It’s natural to look at your balance sheets or email list and think about how much better the year could have gone.

“I know I should have run some Facebook campaigns this year…”

“I STILL haven’t learned the first thing about SEO…”

“If only I’d hired Brigitte back in June, all my problems would be solved by now.” ;-)

This type of analysis can be very useful, and pushing yourself and your organization to do better is part of your role as a leader.

But if you don’t balance this reflection out with an equally in-depth look at what went well, you’re missing a huge part of the equation.

What can you learn from all the progress you’ve made?

celebrate all you've accomplished this year
All the revenue that you brought in this year represents things you did well. What specific triggers helped convert those potential customers into buyers? What can you learn from your success?

All the customers and clients and email list subscribers are individuals who have entrusted you with their most valuable resources — their time and attention.

None of us are owed another human’s attention — this is a gift that is earned. Even if you have just one subscriber, celebrate that gift. It is an accomplishment.
What can you learn from the people who have entrusted you with their investment?

What would your business look like this time next year if you not only focused on problem areas but also chose to double down on the strategies and tactics that are working?

Because I guarantee you, there’s a lot you’re getting right. That’s something worth celebrating.