Tag Archive: social media

When Trump Comes Tweeting: A New Playbook for Boards

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Richard Levick

What would you recommend if you were on the board of Ford Motor Co., Boeing Co., or Lockheed Martin Corp., all of which have had tête-à-têtes with the incoming leader of the free world? Welcome to the age of the suddenly very bully pulpit. The most powerful thumbs in the world belong to Donald J. Trump, who will soon become the 45th President of the United States.

In mid-December, when Trump despaired that Lockheed Martin’s cost overruns on the F-35 joint strike fighter “were tremendous,” the company’s stock lost $4 billion in market capitalization in a matter of hours. Even though the company quickly recovered those losses when its stock price stabilized, Trump’s tweet triggered some discomfiting moments.

No one understands better how to wield the powers of Twitter, the 24/7 news cycle, and a cult of personality than Donald J. Trump quite like the man himself. To one extent or another, Lockheed Martin Corp., Toyota Motor Corp., Carrier, Mondelez International (parent of Nabisco), Ford Motor Co. , and Boeing Co., have all been caught in Trump’s Twitter maelstrom. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, in a proactive move to get the target off its back before the opening salvo, wisely announced that it would invest $1 billion and create 2,000 U.S. jobs. A smart play, but as all newlyweds ask, “Will it last?”

We’re in unchartered waters here—and by “we,” I include C-suite executives, corporate directors, and communications counselors like me who advise corporations on how to enhance their brand equity, engage with decision makers, and weather inevitable storms that come with doing business. Social media, fake news, and a new president have changed the rules of engagement.

So what is the new rubric? For most publicly traded companies over the near term, the right response is the easy one: for your shareholders’ sake, meet Trump more than halfway if his demand isn’t too outrageous, and give him the early victory lap. But at some point, after Trump’s modus operandi on these matters inevitably hits some turbulence, that dynamic is likely to change. Watch this space closely, particularly the business-to-consumer tech companies who have millions of customers conditioned to social engagement.

In the meantime, how can a company prepare for presidential squalls or getting caught in the crosswinds of a Twitter-induced tsunami?

There are scores of precautions a publicly traded company should consider, but they can be boiled down to four imperatives.

Engage employees. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” mantra proved enormously popular in America’s industrial heartland. His administration’s public positioning will be devoted to job preservation, reinvigorating the manufacturing base, and sticking up for the little guy. In such a climate, relations with national and local union leaders and heads of employee groups will be doubly important. If a company is suddenly the subject of public scrutiny, its labor and management will want to present a united front. Politics, it is said, makes strange bedfellows. So does business in tough situations.

Enlist allies. Empowering third-party champions has always been an important part of any corporation’s public affairs and communications arsenal, but now it’s absolutely vital. The press and public in today’s environment are inherently suspicious of big corporations and paid spokespeople. In the clutch, customers, vendors, suppliers, community leaders, local environmental advocates, philanthropic heads, Chambers of Commerce, et al., will have far more credibility. The more social media-savvy—and more genuinely connected to grassroots movements—these champions are, the better allies they are for your company.

Prepare now. Companies should use “peacetime” wisely by distilling facts and messages into 140 characters; creating photos and videos for other social channels (e.g., Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, etc.) that make emotionally appealing messages; track media socially in a sophisticated way that predicts trends; and build a social army now to articulate track records in U.S. job creation and economic growth.

Emphasize speed. Virtually every crisis communications plan in corporate America can be rendered obsolete by the proliferation of Donald J. Trump’s use of social media. If a company is being attacked via social media, it cannot rely on conventional communications to respond. Corporations need to put in place ultra-quick turnaround systems that tap leading-edge media. Build your arsenal of information, army of activists, and strengthen your reflexes now. Have the leader of the company’s digital media team report directly to the board. Integrate your silos so that legal, investor relations, government relations, public relations, digital, and brand practices all know and trust each other. Board members and senior teams need to be put through their paces via scenario drills and full-scale rehearsals.

The most effective way for a company to combat thumb power is through thumb power of its own.


Richard Levick, Esq., @richardlevick, is chair and CEO of Levick, a global communications and public affairs agency specializing in risk, crisis, and reputation management.

Leveraging the Risks and Rewards of Information Technology

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As information technology (IT) continues to evolve, so do the oversight responsibilities of corporate directors. From big data analytics to social media to cybersecurity, technology creates opportunities for companies to innovate, to create operational efficiencies, and to develop a competitive advantage.

These potential rewards can bring significant risks, however. Directors have the task of ensuring technology is integrated into both company strategy and enterprise risk management—and to do so they must first gain a deeper understanding of how technology is impacting their businesses.

To help directors ensure they are prepared to leverage both the risks and rewards of IT, NACD developed an eight-part video series—The Intersection of Technology, Strategy, and Risk in partnership with KPMG and ISACA.

The series includes insights from leading technology experts and top executives from AT&T, Citigroup, Dunkin’ Brands, Kaiser Permanente, and  Oracle, among others, and focuses on critical IT areas for directors, such as:

  • how emerging technologies are altering the business landscape;
  • critical questions boards should be asking about technology;
  • the role of the CIO;
  • disruptive technologies;
  • fostering innovation;
  • balancing IT risks and opportunities;
  • cybersecurity; and
  • social media.

To complement the video series, NACD has additional resources, including white papers, articles, webinars, full transcripts of each video, and a discussion guide for directors who would like to take a deeper dive and bring these topics into their own boardrooms.

To watch The Intersection of Technology, Strategy, and Risk video series and access the supplemental resources, visit NACDonline.org/IT.

Keynote: Hon. Olympia J. Snowe

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NACD Chairman Emerita Barbara Hackman Franklin introduced the first keynote speaker of the day: former Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME), who is also a director of T. Rowe Price Group Inc. and Bipartisan Policy Center. With the government shutdown continuing, Snowe offered an insider’s perspective of what’s causing the lack of bipartisanship in Congress and the likelihood of Congress and the president reaching agreement on long-term fiscal and regulatory issues.

Snowe has first-hand experience in navigating a government shutdown in Congress—her first year in the Senate was 1995 when the last shutdown occurred. She noted that during that time a bipartisan coalition of senators convened to come up with a balanced budget. “We had to show we could collaborate,” Snowe explained.

The culture of collaboration appears to be moving slowly in the current Congress. Divides over entitlements, spending, debts, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have all contributed to the government stalemate. “It’s mind-boggling that Congress would cost this country $300 million in terms of economic output with this shutdown,” Snowe said. “It creates an atmosphere of uncertainty.”

Growth of Partisanship

Why is it so difficult to achieve bipartisan harmony? Snowe notes that part of this is because red states keep getting redder and blue states keep getting bluer. “There is no incentive to working across the aisle because of the risk of being opposed in primary elections,” she said. “We are more polarized in this moment than we have been in 134 years.”

While many may have hoped that recent past events, such as the fiscal cliff and the debt-ceiling crisis of 2011, would have been lessons learned to prevent Congress from dragging America through another economic upheaval, it doesn’t appear to be the case. “The Democrats and the Republicans are like two ships passing in the night—one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific,” Snowe said.

Ending the Stalemate

Snow said attaching the ACA to government operations is not achievable nor is it a winning strategy. She said the key is to reopen government and pass the debt-ceiling increase. “It’s astonishing that some members of Congress truly believe defaulting on our credit as a country wouldn’t roil the markets,” Snowe noted.

She suggested that open communications among leaders will be significant. “This is a transcendent moment for our country,” she explained. “Congress and the president must communicate; they can’t operate in parallel universes.”

But communication among government leaders is just one piece of the conversation. Directors—and the public at-large—also have a duty to speak up. Snowe suggested utilizing social media and online technologies to communicate actively as one approach. “We have the responsibility to make sure Congress becomes the solution-driven powerhouse it once was using the same approach as our founding fathers: advancing decision making through consensus,” Snowe said. “We can’t afford to institutionalize this culture of winning at all costs.”