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CEOs And Today’s Political Optics

CEOs and Today’s Political Optics


According to the upcoming Fortune 500 CEO survey, what concerns CEOs of the largest companies the most today? The happenings in Washington, DC.

Reflecting the political divide we’re presently in, the CEOs responses were pretty evenly split.

About half described fears of the present or potential damage wrought by the stream of political activity and communications we experience daily.

The other half of CEOs describes concern that those same activities will be undone.

In 2018, politics is now the primary spotlight of CEOs of major companies. And that’s no small change in leadership priority.

In fact, today’s changes affect the full spectrum of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance).

Wasn’t it quaint when we were just concerned about fitting Millennials into the workplace, and digital transformation?

Wasn’t it also quaint when you just had to concern yourself with product and company branding? Now it’s easy for your brand and the company behind it to get filtered through political optics.

Critical External Factor Impact

Unless you’re visibly politically active, your company will generally be perceived as falling in line with your trade association or other industry representation.

Often that’s the goal. But many companies, it’s not.

For example, a “Silicon Valley” company is assumed by some to left-leaning and indifferent to individual privacy.

Likewise, an oil company is assumed by some to be right-leaning and indifferent to the health of the planet.

Regardless of reality, these sorts of perceptions are very hard to refocus, even with the best of PR campaigns.

That might not matter unless those optics not only rankle your customers, but draw the attention of political activists and government officials as well.

Today any company can unintentionally create a critical situation which can invite ire and action.

That can encompass boycotts, protests and activist campaigns, viral mis- and disinformation that can transcend social media, new regulatory action and even political punishment.

Even if such actions (or perceptions) aren’t justified by fact, optics alone today are enough to set off a true firestorm.

Regardless of where you and your company stand, the political optics of your company will be the CEO’s responsibility.

Political Optics

Questions to Ask

To lead and succeed through this kind of storm, consider these example questions about what you can do:

  • Are we potentially just on the wrong side of the issue?
  • Could the optics be accurate and we need to change something more than just words?
  • Are we doing anything to actually create those optics, even if it’s not our intent?
  • Do we need to alter our products or services to prevent initial action or escalation?
  • Are we being honest about our appraisal — and can we really see the reality?
  • Can we track down where the optics issue began?
  • Is there a viral post somewhere that set the wheels in motion?
  • Are we demonstrating a “balanced view” of the issue?
  • Is it better to set out a position (even a balanced one) or ignore the issue and wait for it to fade from the news cycle?
  • Can we differentiate ourselves from others on the attacker’s side of the issue?
  • Do we need to meet with the attackers? Will that validate their legitimacy if we do?
  • Are the attackers incorrect on the facts, and can we communicate the facts properly?
  • Can we carefully and authentically embrace a person, position, or organization that presents the optics that we want to show?
  • Can we leverage the attention or action to our benefit?
  • Can we respond without triggering cynicism?
  • Can we intercept and prevent initial or further attacks?
  • Would truth and transparency be better than spinning a message?
  • Is the action being driven by a competitor within ours or from another industry?
  • Is this an attempt at disruption?
  • Is it part of a vendetta by an individual or organization?
  • Do we need to enter a new/leave an existing market?
  • Do we need to partner up with another organization to take visible, non-cynical constructive steps?
  • Do we need to meet with appropriate governmental representatives to educate and build consensus?
  • If we use lobbyists, who and what kind?

Key Considerations

  • Don’t panic. That is the facilitator of failure.
  • Before you dig in for a fight, really understand the other side’s perspectives.
  • Today, what people believe can often outweigh what they know. This situation is known and leveraged in politics.
  • While you and your company may be about the growth game, certain political maneuvers are intentionally a zero-sum game.
  • What you do now will affect you and your company indefinitely.
  • There’s often great value finding common ground and making a connection.
  • Sometimes you’re both trying to say and do the same things, but you’re coming from different perspectives and using different words.

This is just a sample of the issues involved and considerations for addressing them. 

If you face a such a situation and would like to learn more about solutions, please contact us.

Collin Tactical, Inc. specializes in addressing companies’ critical unplanned, time-sensitive challenges. Learn more about why to get help or see our main overview.

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