Much of America will be glued to the collective television next Monday evening for the first of three presidential debates. The water cooler talk the next day will no doubt be fast and furious (though let’s hope that, given today’s political climate, the fury doesn’t get too far out of hand).
Have you given any thought as to how you’ll respond to seemingly innocent questions from reporters and public officials surrounding the debates?
Consider this scenario: You hop on the phone for a scheduled 15-minute interview with a reporter to discuss your organization’s upcoming public policy initiative. The interview starts amiably enough, with polite chatter about the weather or your families. Then, still maintaining that light tone, he brings the subject around to your opinion of the debate.
Another scenario: Your government affairs team is making the rounds on Capitol Hill with some of your group’s members or employees. After the requisite brief pleasantries, your member of Congress starts asking the same questions as the reporter:
- What did you think of the debate?
- Who won, in your view?
- Which candidate would give you a better shake on your initiative?
See where this is headed? Before you know it, you run the risk of inserting yourself—and your organization—into a political scuffle in a very public forum—the news media. Or you’ve served to alienate a key member of Congress on whom you were depending.
If you’ve made a conscious decision to wade into the partisan waters, fine. Just be sure you’ve tested your message multiple times, and that you have the gumption to deliver it effectively.
If, like most businesses, you opt to avoid taking a public stance favoring one candidate over the other, you’d be well served to rehearse how to steer clear of the snares set by reporters and policymakers. Keep these ideas in mind:
- Remember that you are always speaking for your organization. Keep your personal views to yourself.
- Hew strictly to your message whether you’re talking with traditional reporters or broadcasting on new media channels.
- Buck the request for a media interview to your communications department.
- Ensure that all requests for meetings with officeholders are routed through your government relations office.
- Alert anyone who interacts with your public how to handle such questions. You don’t want to offend—and thereby risk losing—key clients or customers.
- Bridge to your message whenever confronted with a challenging question.
We all have our political leanings. However, it’s often not appropriate to bring them up in a business setting. In the weeks to come, keep a keen ear open for this specific type of hardball question. It may sound innocent at first. Don’t be fooled. Your reputation and the health of your business depend on it.