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

Joe Biden, White House, American flag, ballot
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. Trent Joaquin/Getty Images

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

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.


@davidakaplan david.kaplan@adweek.com David is Adweek's Story Desk Editor.
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