In today’s politically charged environment it can seem that the best thing for clients to say, is nothing at all. After all, not addressing a topic can help a business to keep a neutral stance, especially if it’s in relation to topics that could isolate members of their workforce or customer base. Being silent on trending topics and breaking news, however, can also make a company seem tone-deaf or ignorant to today’s world. In this case, silence could be deadly.
There are opportunities to reflect on the news of the day or current hot button issues, without taking a side. The burning question is, how do you encourage clients to respond to relevant news, while also navigating the minefield of political conversations? Start by reviewing the following considerations to make sure you are on the right track:
What’s the core goal of this news / debate?
The most important thing you can do when tackling a hot topic, is to start by striping it down to a simple understanding of what its goal is. What initial question was raised that led to this debate or news? This helps you to easily reflect on whether the topic is something your client / company should peruse.
For example, last week the White House announced that a further 100 companies have signed on to its Pledge to America’s Workers, offering 6.4M+ new worker training opportunities over the next 5 years. Stripping this down, this news ties to the core goal of simply getting Americans back to work. If you have a client that supports HR, elearning, hiring or similar topics, this could be relevant.
What can everyone agree on?
Instead of trying to parse through all the different opinions on either side of an issue, take time to think about what everyone can agree on. For some hot button issues, this can be more difficult than others. It’s important to recognize if the agreement is too diluted, that this may not be the right topic to pursue.
Taking the Pledge for America’s Workers example, everyone can agree that it’s important for those who have lost their jobs to be able to find employment again. Many may even say that it’s important to implement programs or incentives to support those struggling to find a job.
Why would it matter what we say?
A question every PR professional should be asking every time they develop commentary. It’s important for companies to comment on areas where they have expertise to be taken seriously. The CEO of a VR company may be concerned with the number of food recalls this year, but they don’t have the experience or background to offer perspective that will matter to media. In the case of hot button issues, it could even look like a company is issuing comment, just for the sake of comment.
Do we have anything new to say?
Trending topics and breaking news create a lot of noise. To successfully respond to an issue, companies need to make sure they don’t contribute to the conversation clutter. This is where PR professional need to toe the line between offering commentary that’s unique and edgy, while still falling into topic areas everyone can agree on.
For example, with the Pledge for American Worker’s news, a client can’t simply reiterate the importance of training to skill up the workforce for the digital age. It’s a perspective that’s been discussed many times and while apolitical, it’s also dull. However, a company could discuss the training strategies that could make a program like this successful or create a side conversation on how businesses can begin to determine how to compensate transitional workers, considering their existing skill sets. These themes get to the core goal (getting Americans back to work), focus on what we can agree on (the need to identify how best to support or drive employment), but still create new conversations that could reflect a company’s experience.