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Here’s a new type of crisis: How to respond to an attack on your company by the president of the United States. Donald Trump isn’t even in office yet and several companies — Carrier, Boeing, General Motors — have felt his Twitter wrath. He will likely continue to post his critical tweets once in office. What’s clear is that, for some companies, this is a scenario that’s going to have to be added to the crisis plan.
Over the holidays, The New York Times addressed this issue in an article headlined “Be Prepared for Trump Attacks, Brand Experts Say.” “There is nothing in the handbook that instructs executives on how to handle an overnight Twitter controversy created by the president-elect,” the Times wrote.
By now, Trump’s Twitter fury against companies has become well-known: Carrier for wanting to move jobs to Mexico. Boeing for the cost of new Air Force One planes. Drug companies for pricing. Lockheed for cost overruns on the F-35 fighter jet.
So, if you’re the target, how should you respond? It’s a delicate matter.
For one thing, you should decide whether your company is likely to be targeted. Trump tends to go after government contractors, manufacturers with plants outside the U.S., and drug makers. Think of other factors that could make you vulnerable, such as impending layoffs. If you fall into any of these categories, at least be prepared for it. Have it as a scenario in your crisis plan.
As with any crisis, you must respond and you must do so quickly.
After Trump lashed out at Vanity Fair because of a scathing review of a Trump Tower restaurant, the Condé Nast magazine responded by echoing Trump’s own tweet. “Vanity Fair: way up, big success, alive! Subscribe today!” it wrote. It ran an ad calling itself the “magazine Trump doesn’t want you to read” and said subscriptions were up 100 percent after his tweet.
Of course, sarcasm will not be the appropriate response for most companies. Sticking to the facts is the best approach.
For example, on Tue., Jan. 3, Trump tweeted that General Motors should either make its Chevy Cruz in the United States, rather than Mexico, or pay “a big border tax.” Two hours later, GM issued a statement in response. It simply laid out the facts: “General Motors manufactures the Chevrolet Cruze sedan in Lordstown, Ohio. All Chevrolet Cruze sedans sold in the U.S. are built in GM’s assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio. GM builds the Chevrolet Cruze hatchback for global markets in Mexico, with a small number sold in the U.S.”
Of course, many companies won’t want to directly challenge the president like that. They may even accommodate him.
For example, also on Jan. 3, Ford said it wouldn’t build a planned $1.6 billion plant in Mexico, which Trump had criticized. Instead it will expand a factory in Michigan to make hybrid pickup trucks and electric SUVs. CEO Mark Fields said during a conference call that its decision was based on tax cuts and regulatory proposals supported by Trump. (Ford also put out a statement on the matter, which didn’t explicitly mention the president-elect.)
No one will envy you if Trump focuses his Twitter scorn on your company. There is, however, one consolation: Given Trump’s short attention span, it’s likely he will quickly move on to his next target.
— Thom Weidlich
Photo Credit: Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.
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