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Companies drafting emergency plans for Trump tweets

Companies drafting emergency plans for Trump tweets
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Companies and industry groups are turning to lobbyists with a pressing question: What should we do if President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHarry Reid reacts to Boehner book excerpt: 'We didn't mince words' Man arrested for allegedly threatening to stab undercover Asian officer in NYC Trump says GOP will take White House in 2024 in prepared speech MORE attacks us on Twitter?

Trump has used social media to criticize American businesses, often for off-shoring jobs or manufacturing facilities, and many expect him to keep up the broadsides in the Oval Office.

Being attacked by Trump is not only bad publicity but also it can also cause a sudden drop in a company’s stock price.

Businesses that have yet to tangle with Trump are fearful that they might be next, and have turned to consultants and lobbyists in Washington to prepare for the possibility.

“It comes up in every meeting — what has Trump tweeted on this? How would you respond? How would you ... prevent that from happening?” said Jeff MacKinnon, a Republican lobbyist at Farragut Partners.

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He’s urging his clients to turn on notifications that alert them whenever Trump posts a tweet.

There’s even an app from Trigger that allows users to set alerts for when Trump tweets about a publicly traded company.

“We're in a new era of communications,” says John Murray, who leads strategic communications and public affairs for lobbying and PR firm Monument Policy Group.

“The Washington ecosystem has had no catch-up time to understand it and learn how to engage it in an effective way,” he said.

Murray said companies used to have a window of time to figure out their response to criticism from lawmakers and public officials. Thanks to social media, that time is gone. 

“A tweet came out, our stock price is changing, reporters are calling. ... You don't have the luxury of debating about it,” Murray said.

In his first press conference since the election, for example, Trump assailed pharmaceutical companies, saying they were “getting away with murder.” He criticized high drug prices and slammed the “inversions” that have been used by pharmaceutical companies to reduce their tax bills.

The response on the stock market was dramatic. The nine largest pharmaceutical companies — including Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Eli Lilly— lost $24.6 billion on the stock market in 20 minutes, though those stocks eventually bounced back. 

Earlier this month, Trump blasted GM for producing some cars in Mexico and sending them back to the U.S., threatening a "big border tax” on the company. 

The automaker sprang into action with a press release defending its practices and highlighting the investments it has made in the U.S., but the damage was done. GM’s stock dropped by about 1 percent, roughly equal to a quarter billion dollars, after the 26-word tweet.

“We are talking to dozens of our clients about the new reality the president-elect has created,” said David Marin, the managing principal of Podesta Group’s public relations shop. “I can’t think of a more important media strategy than this one today. His bully pulpit is Twitter. You ignore that at your peril.”

The focus in the corporate world on Trump’s Twitter activities underscores just how seriously his social media power is being taken.

“We are hearing from some of our clients, who do not have contacts within the incoming transition or the administration, concerned about that very thing and anxious to try to develop those relationships,” said Amy Carnevale, government affairs advisor for K&L Gates.

Carnevale stresses that companies should get out in front of any issue by communicating “the things president-elect Trump would think highly of” in an effort to avoid drawing his ire. 

While lobbyists say there is not a “one size fits all” strategy for how to respond to a Trump tweet, many shops around Washington are telling their clients to play the long game.

“We propose a longer-term approach that begins with a company telling its story through the eyes of its employees and the communities in which it operates,” said Ken Spain, a partner at CGCN Group and former spokesman for Koch Industries.

Having your message on the same platforms that Trump uses and pushing messages where policymakers can see them are increasingly important for advocacy, public relations pros say.

Amos Snead, of S-3 Public Affairs, says that he is advising clients to ramp up their own digital strategies, particularly focusing on short-burst videos that explain a company or its policy priorities.

“You're seeing smarter organizations in town are being proactive,” Snead said. “Anyone who can tell a positive jobs story, tell that story.”

Snead also predicts an increase in digital advertising, especially along the Acela Corridor stretching from Washington to New York, and placement on cable news shows.

Should trouble arise, “don't put your head down,” Snead says, “Engage.”

Of course, coming under fire from leaders in Washington is nothing new for industry groups, particularly during legislative fights. But the unpredictability of Trump’s pronouncements and the power of his words are something altogether different.

“Clients have always needed to factor political risk into their thinking, but Twitter makes the challenge accelerated, viral and reputational in new and significant ways,” said Bruce Mehlman of Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas. 

Yet Murray of Monument Policy Group emphasizes that companies and groups should not overact to criticism from Trump. 

“What we've seen is oftentimes [tweets are] the initial salvo,” he said.

Something companies need to understand, Murray adds, is that “this is a negotiating tactic and not a strict hard-line political position.”