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PR Uncertainty, Polarization & Fake News: New Comms Challenges & Opportunities in the Trump Era

Man buying Financial Times newspaper with shocking headlineThe election of Donald Trump has initiated a ripple effect of challenges and opportunities for corporate communications and marketing departments. Chiefly, the industry is assessing and planning for the impact of political uncertainty, polarization of stakeholders, and increase in fake news, according to new research from Peppercomm and the Institute for Public Relations (IPR). The small but intensive study participants, who were granted confidentiality, represent a diverse set of both consumer and B2B industries, including financial services, healthcare, insurance, law, pharmaceuticals, retail and transportation.

“When we started this project, we weren’t focused on President Trump, but overwhelmingly, CCOs and CMOs we interviewed said they are experiencing challenges with the new presidential administration,” said Steve Cody, co-founder and CEO of Peppercomm, in a news release. “We know the White House can have an impact on a company’s reputation or even stock price, and wanted to probe into what organizations are doing differently.”

Overall, CCOs and CMOs noted their departments are increasing efforts to become better prepared in case an action by the administration affects them or their industry. Some have created crisis plans, noting the importance of a rapid response. Leaders are also thinking about when or if to engage if they are pulled into a public discussion related to politics and/or policy, and they are relying on data and case studies to guide their thinking. In the report, one CCO offered a roadmap of best practices to ensure her organization stays true to its core values and to keep employees in the forefront throughout the process.

“All interviewees, except for one whose company doesn’t do business in the U.S., said President Trump and his new administration could impact, or has had an impact, on their business functions,” said Dr. Tina McCorkindale, president and CEO of IPR, in the release. “Closely monitoring and preparing for potential issues within the organization, industry, and overall business environment will be critical for CCOs.”

CCOs and CMOs also noted that stakeholders are increasingly becoming more polarized. For example, a mention by President Trump can create either a boycott or a swell of support. Some companies are taking advantage by doubling-down on messages of open-mindedness and tolerance, while others are redirecting their messaging to focus on corporate contributions to the U.S. economy and culture. Sniffing out and combating fake news were also cited as new challenges for CCOs and CMOs.

The next study to be released by Peppercomm and IPR will focus on the key complex challenges and opportunities senior communication and marketing executives face in today’s rapidly changing world, including the impact of digital and data and the expanding role of the CCO.

Read the complete report here.

The results are based on a series of interviews with 22 leading chief communication officers (CCOs) and chief marketing officers (CMOs).

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