Should Companies Get Involved in Politics?

Ben Pindar
2 months ago

Should companies get involved in politics? Exploring the pros and cons of lobbying and public affairs

Politics touches every part of our personal and professional lives but, I’d argue, none more so than in the world of agriculture.

Agriculture has, and always will be, a fierce political battleground and that’s because food production is always going to be a hot topic – even when the current Government may seem to be doing everything it can to stop farmers from growing food.

This industry has been a political football for centuries and is arguably now enduring the biggest political upheaval since the Enclosure Act.

Everyone in agriculture has a political opinion but, should agribusinesses get involved in politics? And, if they do, what are the most effective ways to influence and lobby politicians on the issues that matter? And, should companies use politics in their marketing?

What are the benefits of companies getting involved in politics?

In my days as a business journalist, I remember one captain of industry telling me a business never wins when it deals with Government (shortly after a multi-million contract collapsed). With our merry-go-round of Prime Ministers and constant u-turns on policy, this can often be true.

However, when a business takes a stand on a political issue, it can bring a range of benefits too.

For agribusinesses, this can be especially true as their core audience – farmers – are extremely politically-astute and will have strong opinions on Government policy and what needs to be done to protect the future of food production.

From a marketing standpoint, agribusinesses are increasingly being seen to speak out on key issues, standing shoulder to shoulder with their customers and, in some case, going as far to delve into the murky world of public affairs and trying to influence Government policy for the better.

By including their political views in their marketing and messaging they are helping to build authenticity and are clearly demonstrating their values to the customer. This can help to build loyalty and create a stronger connection to the brand, helping to increase sales.

This political positioning in their agribusiness marketing will appeal to a targeted audience and help to differentiate the business from their competitors. It puts you in the same camp as the farmer, as a trusted friend rather than just a salesperson trying to empty their wallet.

Another major benefit is that it can be a powerful tool for public relations, enabling you to secure coveted column inches in the farming media and creating opportunities for you speak out on a key issue that their readers will want to hear about.

What the risks of companies getting involved in politics?

As we’ve said, politicians are fickle or something else beginning with ‘f’ and everyone in agriculture and usually beyond, will have their own strong political opinions. The fact everyone has a view and that politicians will inevitably change their mind every time the wind changes direction does carry an inherent risk to companies who take a political stance in their marketing.

By taking a stance, you do run the risk of alienating customers who disagree. The one advantage of being an agribusiness is that farmers will usually be relatively united on the big political issues of the day as they share similar values and ambitions.

Another potential risk is that suddenly making political statements can dilute your brand identity, especially if it doesn’t particularly align with your values and this will erode trust with existing customers who thought they knew what to expect from your company. The same political activity can also distract you and your team from the core business activity, further running the risk of impacting sales.

There are also a variety of legal and regulatory risks associated with getting involved in politics. These are linked to lobbying activities and campaign finance rules so won’t impact agribusinesses just taking a political stance but should be considered if you move into actively campaigning with and against the Government on key issues.

The final consideration is the sheer volatility and unpredictability of the political machine. What may seem to be a popular stance today could quickly become a controversial and divisive issue and for companies that get involved in politics, they can quickly be swept into the maelstrom of the political and media arena if they don’t remain agile and alert to the issues of the day.

Leveraging politics in your business marketing

Realistically, politics and business in the modern world are inseparable and businesses can use politics as an effective marketing strategy.

In agribusiness, farmers will expect the brands they buy from to understand the political landscape and the challenges they are facing as a result. By incorporating those political messages into your marketing activities, you can attract new customers and build stronger bonds with existing ones too.

The key to incorporating your political position into your marketing is to first truly understand your audience. Its easy to think of farmers as one homogenous bunch that all share the same political views, but each sector of the agriculture industry and each region can be facing different challenges and that will be shaping their political views.

It’s also important to make sure your political position aligns with your brand values and is seen as an authentic sentiment. Your customers will quickly see through any half-hearted attempt to jump on a political bandwagon. Any decision to get involved in a political issue should be genuine, considered and sincere.

As part of any political marketing campaign, it’s important to make sure you bring your customers along on that journey. Encourage them to engage with your agribusiness and the democratic process, and let them help shape your messaging and your activity. By getting people involved in your goals, you will help to add authenticity to your campaign and, more importantly, build trust and loyalty with your brand.

As with any marketing campaign, you must work to stay ahead of key issues and be alert to any changes and you should also navigate any potential controversial issues with care as this can polarise and alienate an audience.

By building politics into your marketing you can build stronger connections with your audience and create more meaningful conversations with customers that put you ahead of the competition. With the best marketing campaigns, not only will an agribusiness grow sales and build better relationships with customers, but they’ll help to change the industry for the better by bringing about political change.

How can companies shape Government policy with marketing and public affairs?

Government policy affects everyone, and politicians are under a constant barrage of differing opinions on how they can improve on what they are doing.

Despite this onslaught from all sectors, businesses are well placed to help shape and influence Government policy as they are at the heart of key sectors and have direct connections to those most affected by the current political landscape.

They are also usually more objective and focussed on creating change that will generate wealth and prosperity – something that benefits everyone.

In the agribusiness space, this is especially true as companies are closely connected to farmers and have a deep understanding of the challenges and obstacles that prevent the sector from thriving and continuing to feed a nation.

Buit, how do agribusinesses leverage marketing and public affairs to influence Government policy?

First and foremost, like all good marketing campaigns, you have to craft a compelling message. A simple and effective message, combined with quality storytelling, will have appeal to a broad audience and helps to create a narrative for politicians around the policy issue.

This messaging will underpin all your activity, whether that’s articles, advertising, interviews, events, petitions or even protests so its important to get that right at the outset.

With public affair campaigns, consider bringing on partners that can add weight to your campaign. Seek out like-minded organisations, complementary businesses or even agricultural influencers who can help to amplify your voice and bring more credibility to what you are hoping to achieve.

Data is another powerful tool in the public affairs and marketing toolkit. Again, agriculture is dominated by data. Whether that’s information being collected about the soil and the crop, accurate measurements around livestock production or even data being collected from tractors and machinery in the field, that data can add weight to your argument, providing concrete evidence and helping to shape and inform decisions.

By drawing on your data to demonstrate the potential impact of policy change and helping to bring your narrative to life, you can use it as a solid foundation for your campaign.

Another key element is to mobilise your network in public affairs campaigns. If you’ve done the work and identified an issue that matters to farmers and your customers, encourage them to engage with and support the campaign. By creating an army of farmers around your movement, you will help to generate more noise and clearly demonstrate the importance of your campaign to policy makers.

The final element of a good public affairs strategy, and perhaps the most important for positioning your brand and bringing business benefits, is to become a thought leader on the issue. This is your opportunity to leverage your expertise by speaking out on the issue and taking a prominent and public position on a critical issue for your customers.

This can take many forms, from writing white papers, blogs and opinion articles through to speaking at industry conferences and in media interviews. The key is to consistently be seen to be sharing valuable insights and opinions and this will ensure you are perceived as a leading stakeholder in the policymaking arena and become involved in the decision-making process.

So, should agribusinesses get involved in politics?

Put simply, the answer is yes. Agriculture is a highly politicised sector, and your customers will expect agribusinesses to understand the challenges they face and have a position on policy.

While most businesses will happily share their views and concerns with customers, only a few are going further and utilising the marketing potential of public affairs by actively joining the campaign for change.

Yes, there are risks but there are also significant benefits in terms of building stronger relationships, trust and loyalty with your customer base. A good public affairs campaign also serves to become a powerful tool for raising the profile of your brand and differentiating you from competitors.

Most importantly, by combining marketing and public affairs, agribusinesses can become a hugely influential force for improving Government policy and, ultimately, improving the lives and prosperity of their customers.

Taking a political stance is not just a competitive advantage and a tool for business growth but is something customers are increasingly expecting to see from the brands they want to engage with, especially in agriculture.

If you want to explore how to get your company involved in politics or are interested in developing a powerful marketing and public affairs campaign, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to talk about the potential benefits to your business.

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