For an example, time to turn to CES, the annual electronics and technology convention, run by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). It announced recently that Ivanka Trump would appear as an expert who would discuss "employer-led strategies to reskill workers, create apprenticeships and develop K-12 STEM education programs." Interviewing her, presumably, will be CTA president Gary Shapiro.
The organization mentions her as one of the "confirmed keynote speakers," including top executives from Samsung, Daimler, Delta, NBCUniversal, Unilever, and Salesforce.That is to say, people with responsible to achieve goals at large companies and who would likely face consequences if they failed.
In the announcement came the following rationale:
"As a business leader and entrepreneur, Ivanka Trump is an advocate for creating family-sustaining jobs through workforce development, education and skills training," said Shapiro. "We welcome her to the CES keynote stage, as she shares her vision for technology’s role in creating and enabling the workforce of the future."
And that's where the branding wheels come popping off the business bus.
CES, if anything at all, has been a gathering place where a trade association for tech industry interests proves its relevance. According to CNET, which initially broke the story two weeks ago without CTA confirmation, "Ivanka Trump has played a major role in the White House's technology outreach, joining Google CEO Sundar Pichai at a tech jobs initiative announcement in October and accompanying the president's visit to Apple's production facility in November."
In other words, she's speaking because she's the daughter of Trump, not because of her own expertise or accomplishments. As an "entrepreneur" she was put into the family business. Her fashion line, according to a Washington Post report, relied "exclusively on foreign factories in countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and China, where low-wage laborers have limited ability to advocate for themselves." Not in keeping with the administration's "buy American" theme and lagging behind major fashion brands in that "have in recent years made protecting factory workers abroad a priority."
There's nothing to suggest that she has any actual experience in retraining employees, creating apprenticeships, or developing-;or even overseeing-;an educational program of any sort.
This is and isn't an issue of politics. The CTA certainly seems like it is trying to establish or leverage political connections. Which can make sense in business, particularly when your industry is coming under increasing scrutiny. That would be true no matter what political party was in power.
There are many ways to work with politicians. Invite them on boards or place them on panels. Donate to their campaigns, perhaps. CTA didn't do that. Instead, it treated Ivanka Trump as a high-profile expert when she isn't.
The public plans and display have put the CTA's brand, and that of the CES show, in a pickle. The whole thing is supposed to be a display of industry expertise and insight. What it's about to demonstrate is the opposite.
Brand isn't something a company can pick up and drop off when it's convenient. It's something your business becomes stuck with. A corporate brand also isn't something that is one-sided. Customers have expectations and ultimately have to give permission for what the brand's owner can do with it.
Having a non-expert pontificating, no matter what the political persuasion, undercuts what the show is supposed to be about. Not what you want, when almost annually there are articles asking if your show is still relevant.