In the world of Brexit, Trump and Jeremy Corbyn, it is hard to avoid politics. Between the 24-hour news cycle and constant social media updates, people hear about every piece of legislation, every political scandal, every social injustice – and you can be sure they’re talking about it offline too.

As a business, commenting on politics can be a tricky and sometimes ill-advised move. Trial by Twitter is becoming commonplace and every value that isn’t strictly apolitical can lead to a loss of customers or a decrease in share prices, it is impossible to predict until it is too late.
So when your brand offers any opinion related to a hot-button issue, you’re guaranteed to alienate at least one customer base and bring in another. What place, if any, do corporations have in political discourse?

Should businesses comment on politics? 

Increasingly consumers want to feel that their money supports businesses that reflect their personal values, whether it’s buying eco-conscious products or spending extra for ‘Made in Britain’. But widely politics has the potential to influence our retail choices in unprecedented ways.
When Nike announced Colin Kaepernick as the face of its new advertising campaign, it outraged American patriots that didn’t agree with the NFL player kneeling during the American national anthem. Videos of people burning their Nike products went viral on social media with many customers announcing they will boycott the sporting brand. However, three days after the Kaepernick announcement and despite the outrage, share prices for Nike rose to a record high.
However, big brands have much more leniency when being adventurous in the world of current affairs. One bad PR or advertising campaign, arguably, wouldn’t ruin the entire business before having a chance to fix the problem.

For smaller businesses, it can be a murkier ground to wander through, but not impossible.

The first thing to remember is to define what is a political matter and what is a social one. No company can afford to stay completely out of political issues. But many issues that are described as ‘political’ are in reality about equality, social justice and climate change. Staying on the side-lines has become the same as taking a side and it’s one that could alienate your employees, never mind your customers.
In Britain supporting LGBT Pride or diversity in the workplace isn’t a political matter. It is something every business should aim to highlight. Whether you decide to plan a PR campaign or highlight it on social media is entirely your choice but nine times out of 10 it won’t result in any severe backlash as it is a widely-known issue that every side of politics is working to improve.
When it comes to controversial issues like Brexit and Trump unless your business is heavily and directly involved in the political industry. It risks alienating a percentage of your customer base. However, if your business has a fresh, interesting angle it can hugely increase your press office activity while simultaneously positioning your brand as the topic expert.
At Prohibition, one of our clients is a negotiation expert, the team created interesting angles about the Brexit negotiations and offered exclusive commentary to national media. This resulted in realms of coverage including live analysis of body language at press conferences and dirty negotiation tricks that might be at play. All the coverage was apolitical, positioned the client as negotiation experts and increased brand awareness among business leaders, plus secured exposure in The Times, Telegraph and Huffington Post.

Know your audience

However, it all comes down to what type of business you are and how you manage your tone of voice. A business like Ben and Jerry’s thrives off political PR and being involved in current affairs. As shown this week with the launch of a new flavour ‘Pecan Resist’ to support activist groups protesting against the Trump administration.
Ben and Jerry’s know its audience and know that Trump supporters probably don’t buy its products anyway. Launching this flavour is a well-calculated move from the ice cream brand, aimed at current customer retention rather than new customers.
British betting shop, Paddy Power isn’t known for its heavyweight commentary on political matters. However, it regularly achieves wide-spread news coverage for it’s cocky and fun stunts. On the day of the 2015 general election, Paddy Power parked a truck bearing the message “You’re getting sacked in the morning” outside of Westminster Parliament.
Emulating a chant birthed in the stands of football grounds across the UK, Paddy Power managed to remind their audience (mainly demographics with lower voting turnout) to vote in the general election while still following the brand’s tone of voice.
In conclusion, knowing your audience and how they would react to what you are trying to say is the most important factor when considering entering political discourse.
If your business has something fresh and interesting to say and can provide expert analysis, it is a great way to improve press office activities but do try to remain apolitical.

About Liam Pearce