Why Being One of Trump’s Pro-Business Cabinet Nominees Isn’t Great for Business

Perceptions sink for brands whose chiefs were chosen

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President-elect Donald Trump's tapping corporate honchos for his cabinet might be good news for big business—unless, of course, you're talking about the actual businesses those execs are running.

According to a just-released survey from YouGov BrandIndex, all three of the companies from which Trump's C-suite nominees hail—Goldman Sachs, CKE Restaurants and ExxonMobil—have suffered significant declines in consumer perception since their current or former brass found their way onto the president-elect's short list.

In the case of Goldman Sachs—whose former senior manager Steve Mnuchin is Trump's pick for Treasury secretary—the perception has plummeted by 36 percent since November. (Trump has also said he'd chosen Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn to run the National Economic Council, which linked the Goldman brand name with the Trump White House for a second time this month.)

But why would an executive merely getting picked by Trump lead to consumers taking a dimmer view of his company? The obvious implication is that having your corporate name tied to Trump is a liability. But YouGov BrandIndex CEO Ted Marzilli ventures that the media echo chamber has a lot to do with it, too.

"When each cabinet pick is so magnified by social media and news organizations—and often linked to the company they currently or formerly worked for—it's the classic guilt by association," Marzilli said.

Whatever the cause, it's certainly not good news for the brands thrust into the headlines. In the case of CKE—which owns, operates and franchises over 3,300 eateries including Carl's Jr. and Hardee's—perception has dropped to its lowest point since late 2012.

The company's longtime CEO Andrew Puzder, was announced as Trump's pick for Labor secretary on Dec. 8. While Carl's Jr. still enjoyed a positive perception rate of 3 percent the following day, as of the Dec. 19, it was down to 0.2 percent. (A rank of zero is neutral.)

Trump announced that he'd selected ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be his secretary of state on Dec. 13. Since then, ExxonMobil's perception has slid from a modestly positive rating of 2.4 percent to just 1 percent.

Goldman Sachs' perception is by far the worst. As of Dec. 19, its rank floundered at -13.5 percent.

The findings stand in sharp contrast to the feelings of the business community overall, which has been sanguine about the next administration. In the 44 days since the election, the Dow has surged by 1,600 points amid expectations that the new president will cut taxes and deliver on infrastructure spending, two policies he promised during his campaign.

YouGov's data suggest there's a clear divide between what corporate America thinks is good and what many Americans think of corporate America. That said, YouGov has acknowledged that the corporate perception scores were pulled down largely by "Democratic-affiliated consumers." Yet even Republican consumers' opinions skewed to neutral or just mildly positive.

Marzilli said Goldman Sachs already had problems with a poor public image, one it earned for itself amid the 2008 economic crisis, so a slip in perception makes a bad problem worse.

"Let's face it—brands that are already villainized are often the most sensitive to any bad news," he said, "even if it's [only] by relation."

@UpperEastRob robert.klara@adweek.com Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.
Publish date: December 22, 2016 https://dev.adweek.com/brand-marketing/why-being-one-trumps-pro-business-cabinet-nominees-isnt-great-business-175215/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT