Change is coming. It is increasingly likely that Election Day will bring a fully Democratic White House and Congress again, on top of Democrats leading statehouses across the country. But Democratic governance won’t resemble what it did during the Obama era. It’s impossible to predict five months out with certainty what DC or the public affairs universe will look like. But we know leaders will face the daunting prospect of rebuilding a country and leading a nation and the world that has been devastated by COVID-19, economic depression, and racial inequality.
In reality, that change is already happening — and that work is already underway. If leaders of brands wait until the morning after Election Day to ask themselves what their role is in this new world, it will be far too late to find a meaningful answer. Below are the first five questions brands should be asking themselves right now.
(1) November is coming. Are you ready?
Regardless of the results, the world has already shifted. And brands are being held to different standards this election cycle. Responding to the news surrounding campaigns and their policies, getting ahead of positions in potential party platforms, and doing all you could to ensure your employees and community are enabled and engaged isn’t just a suggestion — it’s critical to success. Have you put health and safety first as the economy reopens? Did you speak out on immigration, gun violence, racial inequities, minimum wage and other issues that matter? Are you closing your doors on Election Day to better allow your staff to participate in our democratic process? Customers, employees, shareholders, elected officials, reporters and more will be scrutinizing your movements pre-November. You want to get this right.
(2) What do your priorities look like with a Biden White House and a Democratic Congress?
Many inside and outside Washington think they know what it means to be a “Biden Democrat.” It’s time to rethink those assumptions. From the potential running mates the former Vice President is considering, to his joint policy committees with Senator Sanders, the Biden agenda and the party’s priorities have shifted leftward. In a Biden Administration and a Democratic Congress, there would also be members of the Cabinet and Committee Chairs chomping at the bit to make real, progressive change happen — and in short order. The leadership will be progressive, their agendas will be long and the competition to be first in line will be fierce. Waiting for victors to be declared, bills to be introduced and Cabinet appointments announced is far too late to start thinking about your agenda and your approach to Washington post-inauguration. The same is true for statehouses across the country.
(3) How will you play a role in local and national rebuilding efforts?
This is more than the Tip O’Neill adage that “all politics is local.” Regardless of who is in the driver’s seat in Washington next year, the first order of business will be on rebuilding — from a devastated economy and decimated workforce, to a health care system that must grapple with more American deaths from COVID-19 than the Vietnam War, to the systemic challenges facing communities of color across the country. And that doesn’t even factor in the investments needed in education, infrastructure, and everything in between. Brands that are at the forefront of that work right now — whether you’re a small business investing in rebuilding your local main street or a global company that can hire on a larger scale and invest in workforce training — will be far ahead of the game with whichever administration is hitting the gas on inauguration day. But that’s only one piece of the equation. We know from our polling that consumers care about what companies are doing to support their workers and the larger community — as family budgets shrink generally, expect people to make that preference known as they spend their limited resources. Consumers are paying attention and so should you.
(4) How will you talk about the value of your brand as the new normal sets in?
Gone are the days of once-a-year philanthropic donations or perfunctory community announcements — and rightfully so. Many of today’s consumers are looking to brands, not governments, to solve problems and show leadership, from the creation of a COVID vaccine and improvement of local infrastructure, to positions on issues like immigration, gun safety and equal employment, and so much more. Consumers want to know how brands are enacting long-lasting positive change in communities. Brands need to think about the industry-specific and general solutions they can be a part of, where and how they can lead and how they communicate that change.
(5) Are you telling your story now?
If you’re not telling your story now, you’ll be playing catch-up regardless of election results — this is true whether you’re preparing to make an ask of consumers or weighing in with political leadership. You no longer have six months to build supporter network to advocate to legislators on your behalf. Capitol Hill fly-in days where you have a group of people to make your case in person are likely a relic of the past, particularly as we seek to emerge from the pandemic. Are you researching and building an audience now, so you can have a targeted communications approach for a public affairs campaign? If not, it’s time to get to work.
Whether you’re a family, a business, or the federal government, change is hard. But it’s time to learn the lesson that we should have learned in high school: procrastination is not your friend. It is that much harder to convince stakeholders and shareholders that the dog ate your homework with so much at stake. Now is the time to ask the tough questions internally and to prepare for the change that is coming. Doing so will help ensure that you are strategically positioned to succeed at the local, state, and national level.