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When the President Attacks

What was your favorite college class? I doubt it included strategies for fending off a Twitter attack from the president of the United States. But these are different times.

Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business offers a course for graduate students where they play the role of CEOs of companies under attack by President Donald Trump. A college class that might have sounded farfetched not long ago is now the most popular course at the school, which is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 20 MBA programs in the country.

The popularity of the class speaks to a real-life challenge facing brands. We’ve entered an age where most customers want companies to take a stand on social issues, but influencers — ranging from social media mavens to the nation’s commander in chief — are ready to punish executives who wade into these choppy waters.

Your company doesn’t need to take a high-profile stance on a contentious social issue to land in the crosshairs of an elected official or powerful interest group. You can be minding your own business — literally — and suddenly you’re the center of unwanted attention. Regulatory reports, corporate business announcements, workplace accidents and a slew of other reasons could make you the target du jour. Your time wearing the bullseye might be unearned and unfair — but that won’t make it easier.

In this environment, a key role for public relations is to identify potential challenges, question weak proposals before they become policy, and be prepared to advocate company positions with key audiences. Neutrality is not an option when your motives, business practices and ethics are being questioned. And, as Duke MBA students will learn, getting in a social media donnybrook with a man whose tweets reach 56 million followers is not a formula for success.

How you react when the attack comes doesn’t have to be a profile in courage, but it must demonstrate your brand’s key attributes, ranging from honesty to durability and loyalty to flexibility. What do you want your words and actions to communicate?

Learn more about safeguarding your brand’s reputation.