This is a question many a business person has asked themselves from time-to-time. The answer is usually a resounding ‘no’.
Received wisdom is that business stays out of politics, at least overtly. Donations may be made with a view to an end (and in there lies a whole other discussion) but that’s not the same as coming out and backing a candidate or party. There’s just too much risk of alienating a huge chunk of your potential customer base.
PR people tend to shudder at the prospect of their client or employer engaging in political hot topics.
That’s what makes a move to do just that by Expensify CEO, David Barrett, so fascinating.
He’s come straight out with an email to all of his users asking people to vote for Joe Biden in the US presidential election, citing a risk of civil war if there fails to be a clear outcome from the ballot.
Have a read, then choose your favourite word to describe that. The following options are probably all going to be near the top if you made a list of predictable reactions:
Take a read. The guy has nailed his and his company’s colours very firmly to the flagpole from which the Stars and Stripes is currently sagging despondently.
Don’t you love it though?
Like any PR consultancy with plenty of experience, we start from a position of caution when it comes to picking battles. But this is beautifully calculated.
We know that business is not and cannot be a vacuum with regard to ethics and values, and the corporate world has accelerated rapidly in that direction in the last ten years or so.
Expensify (as the name suggests, a business expense management platform) takes this to a whole new level with, as Mr Barrett explains, a very flat and democratic structure, right down to wage allocation. This gives them the perfect platform to hang their hat on being unabashed democrats, doing their part to face down someone they believe is not.
Of course this is a very silicon valley thing to do, but while Facebook may be trying to pull off a tricky balancing act over political ads and Twitter is fact-checking Trump Tweets, they don’t go this far.
The key, of course, is to make a full argument. Barrett has avoided preaching and has laid out his rationale. Agree with him or not, he’s meeting the minds of the people he employs, probably the majority of those he calls customers and whipping up a storm of publicity.
Given the niche his company operates in, I’m not convinced he and his colleagues see this as a cynical publicity stunt though. I think they want to be able to sleep at night knowing they used what platform they had to uphold their values at what is a very serious juncture for their country.
Agree with their view and his actions or not, consider it rash or not, I think there’s something to be admired about that.