Late last year, I wrote about three public relations trends coming in 2019. And now one is materializing right before our eyes. PR is becoming more political.

For proof, take a look at recent moves by big name companies like Procter & Gamble, Nike, Bank of America and Dick's Sporting Goods.

Putting Money Where Their Mouth Is

On Sunday, Secret deodorant took out a full-page ad in The New York Times announcing it was giving $529,000 to the U.S. Women's Soccer team -- $23,000 to each of the 23 players -- to help close the pay gap with the men's sport. Secret, a Procter & Gamble brand, also encouraged the U.S. Soccer Federation to "be on the right side of history."

Earlier this month, Nike scrapped its Independence Day sneaker featuring the Betsy Ross flag after former quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick called it racist. Last year, Nike featured Kaepernick in ads bearing the message: "Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything."

Last month, Bank of America became the latest big bank -- Wells Fargo & Co. being another -- to announce it would no longer finance companies that operate private prisons and immigrant detention centers.

Dick's this year removed hunting items from 125 stores, a move that management attributed to an underperforming category. Last year, following multiple school shootings and a tense public debate over gun safety, Dick's stopped selling assault-style rifles at its Field and Stream stores.

Big, name-brand companies have long taken public stances on issues they feel strongly about. And PR and marketing experts foresaw a renewed interest in political PR. Last year, Kyle Austin, founder and managing partner of Beantown Media Ventures in Boston, told me that consumers increasingly want more than a "no comment" from companies on political and social issues. He added that, according to Edelman, 59 percent of American consumers base their buying decisions on brands' publicly stated beliefs. 

What It Means for You

There might not be the expectation for you to take a strong public stance. And you might not have the size and scale to weather a backlash, no matter how short-lived. Whether politically-driven PR is right for you to do so depends on your audience. What will resonate with your customers, partners, stakeholders and employees? 

And what form that political PR takes for you might be different, as well. Rather than weighing a national advertising campaign, you might be considering whether to make public your support to certain political causes or to speak up in a client meeting when something is said that doesn't align with your personal or business values.

Do your research. Examine your values and the messages that are integral to your brand. And then -- to quote Shakespeare -- to your own self be true.

Published on: Jul 16, 2019
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