Should ‘Woke’ Companies Be Worried?

The top performing Republican by far in the midterms was Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida. Depending on whom you ask, he may well be the new leader of the GOP. Of concern for crisis pros is that woke companies are among his favorite targets. He used the word “woke” six times in just 20 seconds during his acceptance speech, before adding for extra emphasis, “Florida is where woke goes to die.” 

He has perfected a playbook for bashing brands as political piñatas and engaging in high-profile stunts with public funds, such as the election ‘police’ and flying Venezuelan migrants in Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. 

Yet, voters in the Sunshine State rewarded him. This should concern communicators and senior executives. We likely will see more politicians replicating DeSantis-style tactics.

What is the best response when your company is called out? American values. Avoid getting dragged into a culture-war conversation. 

Instead, seize the initiative. Define the terms of the debate about your values.

This is not about politics. Instead, focus on fundamental American ideals: equality and freedom. Not in the way a polarizing politician uses them–define what they mean to you.

Doing this requires tactics we’ve discussed in these pages before: counter-crisis infrastructure and countermeasures. 

The first refers to materials and messengers that can help you create the context for a conversation about your values. Elevate how your company worked in a variety of ways to advance equality and freedom throughout its history, 

This is not about one group or issue or a new fad. Rather, it’s “part of a long-standing engagement on contributing to and advancing progress in a way our communities and consumers expect.”

That foundation will help you strengthen credentials and credibility ahead of a crisis. 

The next step is necessary when a critical comment or political stunt continues attacking your company. In this case, pull a pre-fabricated countermeasure off the shelf. It should help defuse and redefine the discussion. 

A patriotic counter-campaign is one option, along the lines of “Our Commitment to America.” Roll it out to reinforce the infrastructure you have around values. 

“Yes, we are working on a variety of fronts to improve access to opportunities and would welcome ideas about how to continue expanding our contribution in this space.” 

Now you are talking less about your differences and more about what can accomplish together. 

Brett Bruen teaches crisis at Georgetown University and served as President Obama’s director of global engagement. He is president of the Global Situation Room.