Carreen Winters
Carreen Winters

America has spoken, and we’re going to see a change in the White House. And with it, we expect to see significant changes in priorities, policies and opinions on a wide range of topics. Undoubtedly, policy advisors at companies across industries and sectors have sprung into action identifying key policy issues that will impact your business and bottom line. But have you considered the implications of this election on your brand’s reputation?

With a fundamental shift in priorities and issues comes an equivalent shift in the benchmarks of how we all judge companies: as employers, as investment opportunities and as community citizens. The pandemic has already brought the importance of companies as employers into sharp focus and fueled the emphasis on shared values between CorpSumersTM and brands. More than nine out of 10 Americans have said they’re watching how your company handles the pandemic and will make their future purchases accordingly. Brands have become more than fashion statements; they’re values statements.

As our policy landscape evolves, these changes will create both threats and opportunities. It’s also clear that we remain polarized and divided, and the need to find enemies is likely to continue. There will be winners, and there will be losers. This is the time to take a fresh look at your communications programs to ensure that you are well-positioned for the “next normal.”

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jan. '21 Crisis Communications & PR Buyer's Guide Magazine
(view PDF version)

Anti-big sentiment is growing. Big brands and big organizations are increasingly viewed with suspicion. Phrases like “anti-competitive” and “anti-trust” are being thrown around with increasing frequency and intensity. Yet it’s our big industries and systems—the financial system, the healthcare system and the food system—that have carried us through the pandemic. If you are a “big”—as a company or a sector—you will need to make the case that size and scale are beneficial, because policymakers, influencers and other stakeholders are presuming the opposite.

This election has been all about values, and making your values heard by voting. But we don’t just vote on election day. Your stakeholders vote daily in every decision they make—where to work, where to invest and where to shop. The CorpSumer movement—or “values-driven consumers” —has become the norm. But first and foremost, people trust people—not companies. Seventy-five percent of CorpSumers highlight public opinion of company leadership as a factor in making purchasing decisions. Your organization’s values and company leadership need to be front and center.

As climate change becomes part of our national narrative, there will be renewed expectations of industry. For those who’ve made 2020 or 2025 predictions, stakeholders will be checking in. Have you delivered on promises? What’s your next commitment? If you aren’t telling your sustainability story, you need to start.

Healthcare will also be front and center … and that doesn’t just impact companies in the healthcare sector. Make no mistake, this may not be an easy time to be a biotech, pharmaceutical company or an insurer or a provider system. But every employer has a stake in the continuing healthcare discussion, and your employer brand is a key driver of your reputation.

A more labor-friendly administration will likely increase organizing activity and embolden bargaining. Your company’s policies and approaches to dealing with the pandemic will take on new meaning, and your biggest threat may be lack of knowledge and awareness. The efforts you are making now to engage, educate and support employees could have long-lasting implications.

Expect technology to be central to policy discussions, ranging from privacy and national security issues to how we can bridge our domestic digital divide. Is your company deploying technology ethically? What are your responsibilities to protect privacy? How can your company use technology for good? This is not just for big tech companies—today, every company is a technology company.

Diversity, human rights and social justice will remain paramount, and stakeholder expectations of companies and brands have never been greater. People are watching what you do and what you don’t. Some of the biggest voices and forces of positive change have come from businesses. Brands are increasingly required to take a stand on social issues … because failing to do so is also viewed as taking a stand.

Washington D.C. is the epicenter of influence in America. And of course, the economy and employment will be key areas of focus for the new administration. As job creators, companies are uniquely positioned to use the “bully pulpit” of Washington to create and elevate their leadership and authority positions. Now is the time for companies to leverage the heightened focus on policy topics and use “government as a marketing tool” to build your company’s reputation, connect with the right advocates and influencers and create thought leadership to build eminence of your executive team, both inside and outside the Beltway.


Carreen Winters is Chief Strategy Officer of MWWPR.