Trump’s effect on corporate communications

Things change fast. Less than two weeks ago “no drama Obama” left the White House and now it’s 24/7 Trump. President Trump, and his administration, are producing new challenges for corporate communications and marketing.

Already a number of companies have seen their stock prices tank or jump because of a critical or embracing tweet from Trump. (Go back in your time machine 10 years and see if anyone understands that sentence.)

But if you look at Boeing’s share price since Trump’s tweet about what he viewed as the excessive cost of a new Air Force One on December 6 it’s continued to maintain its upward trend.

Boeing six month stock price chartFriday’s Executive Order on immigration produced a real fork in the road, though. Although tech has a mixed record on diversity, there are a lot of immigrants, children of immigrants, spouses of immigrants, etc., in the industry. Google co-founder Sergey Brin immigrated from the Soviet Union when he was 6. Steve Jobs’ father was a Syrian immigrant; Apple CEO Tim Cook pointedly noted that Apple would not exist without immigrants.  Much work is done overseas and travel is important. Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Expedia and many other tech companies made clear their opposition to the EO, and some joined law suits against it.

Starbucks announced that they would hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years as part of their “conscious capitalism” approach. They said that they would initially focus their hiring efforts on those individuals who have served with U.S. troops as interpreters and support personnel. Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz didn’t mince words, ““We are living in an unprecedented time, one in which we are witness to the conscience of our country, and the promise of the American Dream, being called into question. These uncertain times call for different measures and communication tools than we have used in the past.”

The immediate reaction was for calls of boycott or support of Starbucks. No doubt executives at Starbucks considered that before announcing their hiring plan.

New York City taxi drivers, many of whom are immigrants, and many of whom are Muslims, boycotted JFK to show their support for the demonstrators there against the EO. Uber came in for a lot of criticism for servicing the airport; Uber’s CEO is part of Trump’s business advisory group (and has had previous PR problems because of the company’s culture). A social media movement for people to delete their Uber app and use Lyft took off. Uber spent the next few days trying to backtrack.

Generally business people don’t like to talk about politics. Michael Jordan famously justified that earlier in his career by saying, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” But major company CEOs are reportedly consulting with one another about what they can say “without poking the bear”.

Companies are now being forced to take a stand whether they want to or not. Whatever they decide will be rapidly broadcast and amplified by social media. We may be entering one of those times like the McCarthy/blacklist period when people and companies are remembered for which side they were on.