To Navigate the Trump-Biden Transition, Brand Leaders Should Take The ‘Dinner Party Test’

Amid the political stalemate, ad leaders must take a definitive stand.


Advertising and marketing executives’ priorities in anticipation of a new regime in the White House: Tread with some caution, but with a new, clearer purpose.

The elation in major American cities on Saturday after the Associated Press named Joe Biden the projected winner of the U.S. presidency would appear to signal a new era in tone and policy in Washington, D.C.


A week after Election Day, Biden is moving forward with his transition plans, while President Donald Trump shows no sign of conceding or abandoning what appear to be quixotic legal challenges in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada and Georgia.


We asked over a dozen advertising and marketing executives what their priorities are right now as they prepare for a new regime in the White House. The short answer: Most plan to tread with some caution, but with a new purpose.


Through the weekend, most sources expressed varying degrees of personal relief and optimism at the prospect of President-elect Biden. (As of Wednesday afternoon, Biden had 279 electoral votes with 77.3 million popular votes to Trump’s 217 electoral votes/72.2 million total, according to the AP’s tally.)

Those positive feelings we heard from brand, agency, marketing and tech industry executives, however, remain leavened with professional wariness. Still, taking a pause to reflect in this dizzying climate is not feasible, sources generally admit. A sense of urgency and context is expected to carefully manage the ever-changing brand-consumer dynamic through the Jan. 20 inauguration.


Aside from weariness and strain related to the pandemic, leaders are struggling with lingering political bitterness and the impact on campaigns and marketing—and how civil strife will challenge their workforces and client relationships.


“U.S. marketers are very conscious of the deep divides that plague our nation,” one major brand executive told Adweek on background. “I doubt many Fortune 50 brands feel that the benefit of any action directly linked—or implicitly linked—to the outcome of the election warrants the risk of alienating 70 million hair-trigger Americans looking for an outlet for their rage at the election outcome.”

Nevertheless, we did hear from leaders, from internal stakeholders as well brands and media services companies, about how they plan to craft and place messages to a public whose emotions will remain raw for the foreseeable future. Here they are in their own words:


Brand relevancy starts internally—and immediately

Ian Schafer, co-Founder and CEO, Kindred

After this intense election cycle (which will continue through early January), leaders must make their teams and organizations their priority. Society’s systemic issues are also most organizations’ systemic issues, and all have been laid bare with the onslaught of Covid.


The nation elected new leadership to address these issues. But with the same leadership in place at these companies, they must be the ones who change things. The problem we’ve found is that many leaders, even ones who are in their roles because they are experts, must feel more confident about the decisions they need to make. Without that confidence, decisions are less likely to happen.


The majority of voters want action now. The message of this election should be that action is long overdue by leaders in the advertising, marketing, media and tech industries, especially when you consider their roles and places in popular culture. With no daylight left between popular culture and corporate culture, “cultural” industries are more vulnerable to inaction than most.


What we must realize about the bitter divisions that remain is that they are more likely to be media-driven than policy-driven. Americans are more aligned on policy issues than most realize; that includes alignment on the issues of a $15 minimum wage, drug legalization, justice reform and gun safety—we’ve seen these become bipartisan issues in this election cycle.


Once issues have been addressed internally, it is time for these industries to reckon with past decisions that made it easier to drive wedges between our increasingly tribalized society.


Leaders must be held accountable. I implore the employees of these companies—agencies, advertisers, platforms and tech—to make their voices heard if their leaders aren’t stepping up.


If a company or industry expects to be relevant for the next four years, they should be clearly communicating and acting upon their plans to undo the exploitation of these divides and preserving a future of advertising that isn’t built upon engagement at any cost, because it’s clear now what that cost is—it’s us. If they don’t act, they will lose whatever trust is left between them, their employees, their investors and the public.


On matters of inclusion, note Biden’s choice in his Veep

Walter T. Geer III, executive creative director, experience design, VMLY&R


When Vice President-elect Kamala Harris attacked President-elect Joe Biden on busing and working with segregationists, he didn’t disregard what she had to say. He turned around and hired her for the second most prominent job in the country, to stand by his side and help him fix the problem. He knew the importance of representation and diversity at the top, to help transition the country and repair the years of damage that we (Black and brown people) have personally lived through.


Executive leaders in advertising need to learn from this. It’s not good enough to fill the lowest jobs in the company with Black and brown people. When they don’t see anyone at the top that looks like them, they feel there’s no path to the top, thus resulting in extremely low retention rates. A top priority for advertising executives should be to give Black and brown people a seat at the table.


Today, hundreds of thousands of little Black and brown girls believe that they can be the president or vice president of the United States of America. Imagine if we could equally make them feel they can be the next CEO of any of the largest ad agencies in the world.


Tackle the issues one by one—and don’t fear retribution

Jordan Bitterman, CMO, TripleLift

It’s important to remember that 70 million people voted for the loser in this election. Their emotions range from disappointment to outrage. While most of the people who steer messaging inside brands might be feeling celebratory, it would be best to pump the brakes on those instincts.


The better bet is to communicate topic by topic. Some issues have become politicized but simply shouldn’t be—diversity, equality, climate change, a free press and pandemic safety all come to mind.

Brands should feel free to be supportive of these issues without worrying about retribution. At TripleLift, we have been unabashed about our support for many of these important issues and have resisted the urge to think of them in political terms. Even as we think about what would a “red voter” or “blue voter” think about “x,” we never worry when it comes to these core topics. Pick the issues that are important to you—and support them.


There’s nothing wrong with striking a hopeful note. Hope springs eternal. The key for brands, however, is to consider the time, place and tone.


I like to employ the “dinner party test.”


Brands are essentially people at a dinner party. They can’t just say anything they want at any time. Talk over everyone or speak incessantly, and the other guests will roll their eyes at you. Be insightful and add value to the conversation, and you’ll be invited back. Knowing who you are as a brand is critical to being able to speak in moments like these. Put in that hard work and then you’ll be more comfortable—and successful—joining the conversation.


Fight 2020 Exhaustion By Helping Consumers Do The Same

Jed Meyer, Managing Director, NA, at Ebiquity 

The fact that the election is moving toward being settled is a positive. Consumers can move past the intense run-up to 11/3 and move on to other topics—like celebrating the holiday season safely.

I anticipate a lot of brands will focus on “moving on” from all of 2020—with the pandemic, social unrest and election fissures.


Although plenty of challenges remain as we move into 2021, brands should emphasize inclusive, affirming themes, as consumers are exhausted and overwhelmed by 2020. Brands can offer solutions to help consumers cope with these unprecedented challenges and “turn the page” from some of the challenges they face in daily life.


For out-of-home, all politics is local (and contextual)

Michael Rosen, CRO of Intersection 

When you look closely at the electoral map, the differences are not just by state, but by individual cities, towns and even neighborhoods. From an OOH perspective, the ability to hyperlocalize messaging, and update that messaging quickly in the context of current events, will be more important than ever to connect with audiences.


A brand renaissance for media and pop culture

Bob Guccione Jr., founder of Spin Magazine, who was brought back to the brand earlier this year to serve as creative advisor

With Trump gone, this removes a gray pallor over—and a perpetual drag on—the media and culture, and allows the sunlight in.


Spin will particularly celebrate the exploding diversity in pop culture, and the positives and now freed opportunities for social change. Despite the deep division in the country right now, I think there will be a renaissance of brands wanting to partner with pop culture media on highlighting diversity and social causes. We’re going to see an explosion of this in the music, and marketers will fall in behind without a doubt.


Holiday season is the time for unity messages

April Mullen, director of Brand and Content Marketing, SparkPost

2020 has been the year where brands exercised their muscle in handling messaging around sensitive social and political matters including Covid-19, Black Lives Matter and the election.


While it was not always planned or easy, marketers are becoming experts at expecting the unexpected and being nimble in their messaging and conveying messages of comfort and support on multiple levels.

Post-election, the large majority of the conversations we’re having with brand customers is around the need for unifying messages about democracy and defining what it means to be Americans in the coming weeks.


This is all happening while Covid-19 spikes are happening too, so brands will be using their voices to bring comfort to one of the more difficult holiday seasons Americans have faced in recent history.


It’s time to concentrate on global solutions

Tasso Argyros, CEO of ActionIQ

Our competition is global, and to compete we need access to the best global talent. Immigration policies and processes need to become clear and fast, to help us hire the talent we need in the U.S. versus outsourcing it to Eastern Europe and Asia.


This is something that Biden can achieve even with a split legislative branch. And given that we are not talking about cheap labor and something that benefits immigrants and businesses, there should be bipartisan alignment.


A federal regulatory framework on privacy—we are surrounded by GDPR on our east (in Europe) and CCPA on our west (in California). There’s no excuse for not having a comprehensive data privacy framework at the federal level that protects the consumers and their personal data while creating a clear framework for the digital advertising business to move forward.


A chance to reset the mission

Samantha Choi Cadley, CEO and chief creative officer, Manual Labor

Great brands will continue on with the missions they’ve established before any of the [incoming Biden administration’s] decisions were made. The best brands have already made the concept of humanity a central pillar in their organizations and that always starts with making employees your number one customer. We always look at our work with clients as a partnership and evaluate if their missions align with ours. So, perhaps this gives companies an opportunity to reset mission and values if they haven’t done it already.


Accountability Is Trending

Chris Breen, Chief Creative Officer, Chemistry:

Accountability is the word I use to describe the temperature across agencies and brands. The days of free passes are coming to an end. Consumers are now demanding it and that is great. The election was obviously bigger than brands, consumers and agencies, but I think the trend towards accountability will only continue to accelerate moving forward as businesses continue to clearly articulate the distinction between politics and simply being held accountable to do the right things.


A grassroots approach applies to marketing

Mark Lieberman, CEO, Viamedia

This moment is about feeling good again.

After a highly divisive campaign and current battle with Covid, local and national advertisers will inevitably land on the need for being proud, compassionate and engaging.


These themes will focus on bringing local communities together at the grassroots level, at bringing national leaders together and even bringing countries together. This theme will echo across brand campaigns regardless how the election turns out, and we anticipate a strong 2021 as we all find our way forward.


Brands must navigate media bias

Dan Granger, Founder and CEO Oxford Road, Host of Oxford Road Presents: The Divided States of Media

As the nation begins to heal, we and our clients are even more focused on aligning our ad dollars with civility and running our businesses in a manner that does not incentivize outrage.


Under a Biden presidency, we are optimistic that much of the rancor we have seen will decrease. There will be less controversy and fewer landmines within media for advertisers to react to. Biden has been vocal about governing for all Americans and his commitment to focus on healing.


So, the media environment will already be less complex for brands to navigate if he follows through on that promise.


We, along with our clients, do believe that there is a movement toward mindfulness in media sponsorships, whereby brands are taking a more considered approach.


This translates to where they place their ad dollars, particularly in the genres of news and politics. Tools such as Ad Fontes Media’s Media Bias Chart are helping both our agency and our brand clients as we work together to make more informed decisions throughout the healing process.


Seize the political and the positive

Katie Keating, founding partner, co-CCO, Fancy

With a Biden win, one of our immediate priorities at Fancy will be to create work that leans harder than ever into the power of positive. These last four years have been a swirl of negativity and disinformation, and we can’t wait to move past that.


But we can’t forget how many people voted in support of lies, racism, misogyny, fear and hate. As advertisers and marketers, we have an opportunity to move the cultural needle forward. We can’t afford to waste it.


Younger consumers are paying close attention

Jeffrey L. Bowman, co-founder and CEO of tech company, Reframe

As America prepares to heal and reconciliation begins, brands and companies have an opportunity to seize the moment and determine their role in helping close the gap between the Old America and the New America. Millennials and Gen Z will be watching closely, and brands that lack a voice or position may ultimately, unintentionally decide their fate in the New America.


Original article found here.