PR in a PC World

Between Donald Trump and Starbucks’ red cups, the discussion around political correctness and its impact on image may never have been so heated. Just as the contingent of people pushing for communications to be more sensitive or more politically correct gets stronger, so too is the contingent of people who are fed up with that notion and believe that communication needs to be more direct or blunt. Couple that with social media’s ability to make any opinion much louder than it otherwise would be and you get a really interesting PR question: In a world that is simultaneously hyper-sensitive and insensitive, how can companies communicate the right messages to earn public support for their brands?

1. Think before you speak. Thinking through your company’s brand platform – what defines you and sets you apart from others – is a critical first step to any customer outreach. Messaging is rarely just about black and white information. It involves tone, timing, delivery method, quantity and quality. Each component could be impacted by your company’s brand platform, and without referencing that while creating your message you can miss the mark. Inconsistent communication, promises that can’t be fulfilled, unintended meanings, or, worse yet, false information can result.

2. Be proactive about reacting. Frankly, there will always be instances where communication backfires in some way. When that happens it is important to act quickly and thoughtfully to mitigate any negative reaction. In Starbucks’ situation earlier this fall, their new plain red cups were unveiled November 1. Controversial reaction really kicked in on November 5. Starbucks responded to the backlash with a statement on November 8, which outlined its rationale for the new design. (Read more at That swift response helped squelch additional negativity and moved the conversation forward more productively.

3. Lean on your faithful customer base. Word of mouth endorsements – whether literally or through social media – still reign. As your customer base builds, regularly reach out to those who are faithful to positively reinforce their commitment to your brand. Your appreciation for them will result in continued loyalty to you, which can mean spreading your brand message to family, friends, coworkers and more. Beyond the help they offer in the good times, these people will be your brand ambassadors if times are ever tough, coming to your company’s defense or offering positive reviews.

Navigating the world of political correctness versus blunt opinions can be daunting, but in the end it is the basic principles of communication that will help any company’s brand thrive. Remaining professional, thoughtful and purposeful are the keys to success.

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