Preparing Communicators for a Disrupted or Contested Election Result

Beyond party platforms, candidate rhetoric and long-term policy implications, the U.S. election itself poses potential reputational risks for businesses. A growing consensus is emerging that the result of this year’s election, barring a huge landslide, could be delayed due to an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots and/or the result being contested, leading to a protracted period of political and economic uncertainty that could rumble on for days or weeks, reminiscent of Bush vs. Gore in 2000.

Communicators should prepare now for the possibility that by November 4 it may not yet be clear who the next occupant of the White House will be. Below are recommendations on how to approach this potential period of uncertainty.

  • Plan for election-related questions from media. A longer-lasting election news cycle could mean heightened economic uncertainty, which will cut across business media. Pitching news to the business press will be harder, and journalists will want to know their opinion on the political impasse.
  • Craft your reactive POV now. Consider now what your brand’s reactive POV would be with external stakeholders and media in the event of uncertainty. Would you be willing to be proactive, depending on the scenario?
  • Understand your brand’s involvement with civic organizations. If your organization signed up to national movements like Time To Vote or Civic Alliance, stay close to their activity and comments post-election given your company association. Similarly, if your brand leveraged third-party talent to promote civic engagement efforts, consider how this may come into play, and actively monitor the talent’s social channels.
  • Monitor your planned proactive campaigns closely. Any planned proactive activity for November and early December needs to be closely tracked, with flexibility built into plans. This should extend to social media to ensure scheduled content or promotional activity does not come across as tone deaf. Anticipate the potential for further brand and/or celebrity boycotts of social media platforms in the aftermath of the election in opposition to increasing levels of disinformation about the result.
  • Brush up on crisis protocols in anticipation of division. In the face of heightened national anxiety, there is an increased risk for mass protest or civil unrest in the wake of a delayed or contested result. Teams should review crisis protocols—especially for those on the front line, such as retailers—ahead of landmark dates like Black Friday.
  • Leverage membership organizations. Consider the role that groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, trade associations or Business Roundtable can play in insulating the risk of going solo, providing a collective voice for the business community.
  • Stay consistent with employee communications. Be prepared for questions and tension among employees, and consider how best, if at all, to communicate with them about the election afterwards. This should be consistent with communications in the run-up to the election. Remember to be mindful and empathetic due to the extraordinary situation the country faces.

This year has challenged organizations to exercise flexibility in the face of external challenges and become more accountable to the communities they serve. As the election approaches and uncertainty looms in the face of a divided nation, businesses should take a moment now to pause, reflect and election-proof their communications.

If you’d like to talk more about how Ketchum can help with issues & crisis counsel or employee communications, please reach out to Jordan or Alla.

Jordan is a vice president, account director in Ketchum’s corporate reputation specialty, based in Washington, D.C., with extensive experience working with clients across food and agriculture, technology and financial services. He also has considerable international experience supporting clients on global campaigns, having previously spent four years in Ketchum’s London office.