By Ron Bonjean & Lindsay Singleton
January 10, 2019 at 5:00 am ET
Over the past year, America watched high-profile tech executives representing some of the largest brand name companies sweat under the hot spotlight of Congress facing questions about their business practices. This is the industry du jour in what has long been a cycle of corporate scandals. But with a new House Democratic majority at the helm ready to make its mark, companies from all industries should be looking towards building their brands and generating the public goodwill that can help them with a changing Washington.
More than 100 new members of Congress were just sworn into office. Even though they are still learning the ropes, many junior lawmakers are now seeking to play at the national level. Now is the time for the business community to quickly adapt to these changes and create a positive dialogue. So how will executives tell the story of their company beyond touting job creation numbers and emphasizing economic impacts in a way that leaves a lasting positive impression with elected officials?
In order to stand out, companies must make it a priority to showcase their behavior as good corporate citizens at home, across the country and around the world. Proudly describing this narrative when making a first impression could make a real difference between having constructive meetings behind closed doors with lawmakers or ending up on the short list of companies that could be called to testify before a congressional oversight committee.
For example, LinkedIn assists job seekers who are refugees or formerly incarcerated find employment; Gap Inc. has improved the livelihoods of millions of its female garment workers throughout its global supply chain and Patagonia just this past election cycle spearheaded a massive get-out-the-vote project. Efforts such as these positively impact the public perception of a company and show lawmakers how they are tackling the problems of society.
Companies need not go it alone in creating positive results. By simply lending their name to a group effort, a brand can take a position and make a difference without expending time or resources.
Consider last year’s multi-brand/NGO pressure on Cambodian President Hun Sen to roll back restrictions on freedom of association and free-labor activist Tola Moeun. The joint effort, which included the American Apparel and Footwear Association, along with companies like VF Corporation, called for labor reforms and a return to the country’s previous freedom of association. Their campaign resulted in the freeing of a major labor activist, notably at a time when U.S. pressure on Cambodia had largely waned in the face of Chinese investment. It surely caught the eye of legislators from both sides of the aisle who petitioned the UN on Cambodian activists’ behalf.
In this new Congress, those businesses that choose to tell their narrative on a holistic level will be more successful at achieving their policy goals or potentially preventing negative attention. The ones that are slow or refuse to adapt to the changing political environment around them could find themselves in greater jeopardy with lawmakers looking to please voters that just elected them to change Washington.
Ron Bonjean is a public affairs and crisis management expert who has served as the lead spokesman for both the House and the Senate, as well as the communications strategist for Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch. Lindsay Singleton is a communications strategist and CSR expert with over a decade of international government and private sector experience. Both are top executives at D.C.-based public affairs firm, ROKK Solutions.
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