When Trump Nukes Your Brand

What’s a poor chief communications officer to do when the president of the United States launches a 140 character hydrogen bomb at you for dropping his daughter’s fashion line? That’s the dilemma facing Nordstrom’s CCO this afternoon in the aftermath of the high-end retailer’s saying bye-bye to the daughter-in-chief’s apparel.

Trump not only attacked Nordstrom on his own handle but used the Twitter handle of the Office of the President of the United States! Holy blurred lines, Batman! And, naturally, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was right there to not only back him up but also to lash out at Nordstrom’s for punishing poor Ivanka.

Nordstrom defended their actions by saying Ivanka’s stuff simply wasn’t selling. Others (the Alt Right, perhaps?) are suggesting the move was in retaliation for Trump’s recent Muslim travel ban.

Whatever the reason, Nordstrom finds itself right smack in the middle of a Category Five crisis. And, the question facing the CCO is this: Do you step up to the plate, defend your brand and provide further clarification (i.e. sales figures that prove the move was purely a business decision) or simply lay low, monitor the Web and see if Mr. President launches a second wave of nukes.

TrumpLand, and its myriad business and political entanglements are presenting communications challenges never before faced by the chief communications officer, chief marketing officer or whomever is in charge of an organizations external communications. And, there is no textbook or best practice for this dealing with type of mugging. Up until January 20th, we PR types have been able to respond in precise, measured ways by following procedures from countless ‘traditional’ crises such as the legendary gold standard itself: Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol crisis.

But there are no Harvard Business School case studies titled, “When the President bullies your brand.” And I’m not aware of any white papers issued by the Arthur W. Page Society titled, “Don’t mess with the President’s daughter.” Nor is PR Week’s cover screaming, “Incoming!”

CCOs are truly flying by the seat of their pants. I’ve spoken to 30 of them in recent weeks, and almost all fear the uncertainty of what lies ahead. While some define uncertainty as unstable global markets and others point to our offending allies while cozying up to our enemies, quite a few voiced concern about The Donald’s picking up his iPhone and banging out 140 characters that could level their corporation’s sales and reputation in a nanosecond.

Were I asked to provide counsel, I’d advise Nordstrom to stay the course, be on the alert for incoming missiles and fully armed with facts and figures to defend your actions. I’d also begin scenario planning everything from angry Ivanka fans ripping apart your retail stores to some complete whack job going after your CEO with an AR-15.

These are indeed the times that try men’s (and CCO’s) souls.

 

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