Presidents have leaned on big companies in the past in hopes of enacting change. But what’s happening with Trump is novel, public-relations experts and business analysts said, because he’s using the lightning-fast communication tool of social media to spread his complaints to millions of people, with no prior warning. And he’s yet to take office.
“It’s a PR nightmare for the companies involved because you don’t want the president of the United States shining a spotlight on a practice that the public might find dubious,” said David Shulman, senior economist for the forecasting program at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.
“What’s really unprecedented is that he’s not even president yet,” Shulman said. “If this becomes a weekly event, it’s going to have a negative impact on the business climate” even if Trump correctly points a finger “at the legitimate issue of the high cost of [defense] procurement,” he said. Trump’s habit of identifying companies and programs that displease him has corporate PR departments trying to figure how best to respond, if at all. Companies often settle for an initial “no comment,” then perhaps a carefully worded press release days after being criticized. That might no longer suffice, analysts said.
“Imagine if he suggests boycotting a company’s products,” Stan Steinreich, president of the public relations firm Steinreich Communications Group, wrote Monday on Fortune.com. “What if he casts aspersions about an executive’s comments? “With Trump as president, corporations are going to have to move with the times and join the social media discussion much more rapidly than they generally have,” Steinreich wrote.
Or at least respond in some way quickly, as Lockheed Martin did Monday. Jeff Babione, executive vice president and general manager of the F-35 program at Lockheed Martin, said the company and its partners “understand the importance of affordability for the F-35 program. We welcome the opportunity to address any questions the president-elect has about the program,” he said during remarks at Nevatim Air Base in Israel before an F-35 delivery ceremony there.