As a PR Consultant, common sense tells me to advise CEOs to avoid taking political stands that could potentially alienate 50% of the population. So, when Bill Penzey, CEO of Penzeys Spices in Wauwatosa, WI, boldly accused all people who voted for Donald Trump of being racists, I was shocked, to say the least.
I also found it difficult to ignore the glaring similarities between Penzey’s brashness and that of the polarizing political figure he was condemning. Were they both crazy, or crazy like a couple of foxes? We know how things turned out for Trump, but how about for Penzey? Was his apparent knee-jerk, emotional reaction actually a well-executed and thought-out communications strategy? Could be.
Let’s take a closer look.
- Did he use the right tone? While Penzey risked alienating a number of existing customers who might vow to never buy his spices again, a large percentage of his customers might still continue using them regardless of whether or not they share his political views. And for those who agree with Penzey, they would be forever loyal.
- Did he know his base? If in fact the audience Penzey targeted does share his opinions about Trump supporters, this serves as an ideal way for him to take a stand for something he feels strongly about while expanding his reach and creating an even greater stronghold on his loyal customer base.
- Did he execute across the right channel? On social media, Penzey appears to be coming out way ahead. While some have shared dissatisfaction with his remarks, the Penzeys Spices’ Facebook page has over 120,000 Likes now, and each post is garnering tens of thousands of reactions. It seems to be encouraging the same level of spirited engagement on social media that we’ve seen over the past few months regarding the election.
- Did it foster adequate reach? Sure, there’s been plenty of negative press, but this story has reached news outlets like The Washington Times. How’s that for reach? While Penzey has been bashed by the local southeast Wisconsin’s conservative population, the story’s national appeal has far surpassed this local exposure. And he didn’t spend a dime to get it.
In the end, the willingness of Penzey to enter the political spotlight might turn out to be a huge win for his company – attracting millions of new customers, fostering interest and notoriety through social media networks, and leveraging the free publicity offered by the press. Don’t tell Bill Penzey, but perhaps he and Donald Trump may have more in common than he thinks.
While I’m not advocating that CEO’s join the political fray, or politicians take to “tweeting” at 3 a.m., we do live in interesting times where abandoning conventional wisdom may have more rewards than risks. And there’s no PR consultant that can argue with results.