January 31, 2017
Speaking Out on the Immigration Ban
President Trump’s executive order last Friday banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States for the next 90 days and placing a 120-day moratorium on the admission of refugees into the U.S. resulted in a wave of online and in-person protests from citizens and politicians.
Many CEOs also took to social media to denounce the policy and offer support to their employees who may be impacted. At a time when a negative tweet from President Trump can make stock prices tumble, how do companies decide when to engage on national issues?
For many companies, it is a pragmatic decision, even if the issue itself is emotional. First, the company needs to decide if customers support the policy or not. With the immigration ban, since many companies have their corporate values aligned with diversity and inclusion, coming out against the executive order seemed fairly simple. However, there are people who think the ban is a good thing and companies need to be aware of the sentiment of their customers.
The second consideration is whether or not the policy has a business or operational impact on the company. The reason that so many of the first CEOs to comment were from technology companies is because they have a diverse workforce with a higher percentage of foreign-born workers than some other industries. Microsoft, Apple, Expedia, and Google were among the companies promising support to their employees who might be effected by the ban.
Once companies have done this analysis, the next decision is what exactly to do. Some companies simply went out with a statement against the policy. Others took more aggressive action. Airbnb is offering free housing for people impacted by the ban. Twitter, Nest, Facebook, Lyft, and Google are among the companies pledging donations to the ACLU and other organizations in support of refugees and travelers detained by the order.
The statements have been a mix of those criticizing the President directly and those critical of the policy without naming the President. It will be interesting to see if there are personal attacks on the CEOs who spoke out, and if so, if walking the fine line of not directly criticizing the President will make a difference.
While airlines have been publicly neutral about their feelings on the ban, many are offering to waive fees for travelers who need to change their plans because of the new policy. The fact that no airline is taking a stand against the policy itself suggests that the overall impact on their operations won’t be significant and they decided to focus on customer service, not political agendas. The irony is that airline stocks have fallen since the ban went into place, so being silent didn’t help.
Even though this ban may seem unprecedented in terms of presidential action, companies should use the same playbook they use for any issue when determining a communications strategy: Know your audience and what it cares about. Understand the potential impact on your bottom line of acting or not acting. Keep your actions consistent with your brand image and values.