The Next Chapter: A Case for Stronger Post-Election Communication

There’s little doubt that, like many things in politics, different Americans watching Saturday evening’s speeches from President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris had different emotions. But as we turn the corner from an unprecedented moment in our history, communicators have a chance to seize on the tone of the incoming President as they look to pivot their strategies.

Let’s face it. Corporate America has been walking on eggshells for weeks. Executives have been toeing the fine line between the need to communicate to employees and external audiences and the valid concern of stirring up the ire of potentially polarized stakeholders.

In an attempt to unify a fractured nation, Biden asked Americans to “put away the harsh rhetoric. To lower the temperature. To see each other again. To listen to each other again.”

This call for unity could be the opportunity communicators have been looking for to get to a semblance of normal. Yes, there is a period of time ahead where the fighting will continue through recounts and judicial challenges. And some of the polarization will be present for Senate runoffs in Georgia. But these will be sideshows to the Presidential transition and calls for healing. And we believe this dynamic brings important considerations:

  • Make civic responsibility commitments permanent. Much of corporate America looked to do its part with a divided electorate through policies to allow time to vote or being election judges. The result was voter turnout on pace to be the highest since 1908. These nonpartisan programs proved strong from a reputational standpoint, and there is opportunity to expand them.
  • Renew or expand two-way employee communications channels. Many companies spent extra time during the election facilitating employee listening sessions to hear concerns during this polarizing time. With Biden’s ask to hear and see each other again, companies can audit internal communications to determine what they need to match this challenge for employees. (Contact us here if you would like help assessing your employee communications channels.)
  • Consider more aggressive executive visibility. Many executives, already dealing with communications challenges in a pandemic environment, have dialed back external visibility opportunities due to a crowded and controversial media environment. We see that logjam easing a bit with a focus on the country moving forward. Now is a good time for executives to reexamine their narrative and their plan to communicate it more broadly.
  • Earn your way back into news media. Brands have had to navigate the news media carefully, concerned their story could be crowded out by election news or thrust into a controversy of the day. While there are many crowded days ahead, the headspace and media space are returning. Pay close attention to the earned media space you covet, and look for opportunities to renew a somewhat normal state for proactive media relations. (Contact us here if you would like help building executive or brand presence in the media.)
  • Refresh your COVID-19 communication plan. Even without a change in administration, continued spikes in the virus are increasing expectations for companies to take proper actions and precautions. With Biden’s appointment of a COVID-19 task force, it is likely that there will be a renewed focus on less politicized actions and the roles that companies and employers have in doing their part. Executives choosing to raise their visibility should be prepared for this conversation.
  • Continue to lead with empathy.As communicators, one of the silver linings of this year is that we have seen leaders demonstrate empathy, compassion and understanding with their employees like never before. As we all move forward in the coming weeks and months, it will be important for leaders to continue exhibiting these softer skills. Remember that empathy is about connection, humanity and commonality, so leaders sharing some of what they are all feeling goes a long way to deepen trust with team members.

As corporate communicators on both the client side and agency side, we are coming toward the end of a year where perhaps we have worked harder than ever. So don’t take it the wrong way when we say: It’s time to get back to work.

Tamara is partner and managing director for Ketchum’s Employee Communications & Engagement specialty. She collaborates closely with clients to create and deploy corporate reputation campaigns and believes that all strong reputation programs begin inside.