Political Stunts and Corporate Events Don’t Mix

Tony Compton, Managing Director
GettingPresence

Every attendee should feel welcome at your next corporate event. Every single attendee. No matter their political background. No matter their views on the current US presidential race. Leave politics out of your next business event.

Never plan or permit a political stunt like the one seen during the “entertainment” portion of this past week’s Dreamforce. Dreamforce is the annual tech convention produced by Salesforce, the #software company with its origins in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) industry. Dreamforce welcomed 170,000 attendees to downtown San Francisco this week, and its website billed the rock group U2 as an event headliner.

For the record, I did not attend #Dreamforce.

Also for the record, I’ve seen U2 perform twice – both in the Chicago area. Once in 1986 for Amnesty International, and once at a regular tour stop in 1996 at Soldier Field.

And this article is not in defense of Donald Trump.

When I woke-up Thursday morning, my #Twitter feed alerted me to the political stunt that took place during U2’s Dreamforce benefit concert held Wednesday night outside of the Cow Palace in Daly City, California. During the concert Bono, U2’s lead singer, engaged in a fake conversation with video snippets of Donald Trump, the nominee of the Republican Party for President of the United States in the 2016 election. Bono “conversed” with segments of Trump’s campaign trail video recordings on a giant split screen above the Dreamforce stage. Recorded Trump videos on the left, live Bono video on the right. In front of a general crowd of tens of thousands of paid convention attendees at a business event.

If you need a more detailed breakdown of Bono’s conversation with Trump, here’s an article about the event by The Wall Street Journal. And another from TechWorld.

But let’s examine the scenario from an attendee’s point of view. If a Dreamforce attendee paid the full conference registration price to attend, had to fly to/from San Francisco, find an area hotel for several nights, arrange for ground transportation, and budget for food and beverage, the total cost of attendance would be several thousand dollars. (At least.) Plus the work time invested. More, companies sponsoring Dreamforce were presented a menu of event options that included five-, six-, and seven-figure packages. Numerous sponsoring and exhibiting companies sent multiple teams of people this past week to Dreamforce. For those organizations, the cost of participation was substantial. For some, this was their major 2016 sales and marketing expenditure.

So paying customers attended Dreamforce. Companies sponsored the event and sent their people. Event attendees looked forward to seeing U2. Event attendees, at a business function, from all walks of life. Different backgrounds, different political viewpoints. Together, at a concert, at a work function. Only to surprisingly witness Bono tear into the candidate that many in the audience support, blindsiding and alienating paid attendees who do not share Bono’s political viewpoints.

If this political stunt was orchestrated with the permission of #Salesforce executives, that’s wholly unacceptable. Any political stunt held at any business event that alienates any segment of an attendee population should never be allowed. You should never risk alienating even one single attendee. On either side of the political aisle. Get down to business, have fun, but leave politics out of your next event. I wouldn’t permit any stunt against Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, Bernie Sanders, Tim Kaine or Mike Pence. Or any candidate, politician, or political party for that matter. Especially one month before a US presidential election.

Yes, US presidents, current and former politicians, and foreign dignitaries often find themselves on the speaking platforms at major international events. Comedians who poke fun at all sides of political issues are hired to entertain large corporate gatherings. And political quips from presenters will always find their way into event #presentations. But in those cases, event producers and paying attendees generally know what to expect. What happened this week during U2’s Dreamforce concert was none of the above.

Bono and his U2 bandmates are entitled to their opinions.

So is Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.

So am I, and so are you.

But nobody should have their political viewpoints trashed at a corporate function.

Nobody.

When people pay to attend corporate events, they pay to learn something, to network, to grow their business, and to enjoy themselves.

I’ve worked with many people, from all walks of life, with diverse backgrounds and political perspectives. I’ve had my share of debates, discussions, and respectful arguments. But #business is business, and #political stunts that may make people feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or out of place have no place in the office, in a #workplace environment, or at any corporate #event. Certainly not to the extent seen during U2’s #Dreamforce concert.

The Wall Street Journal reported that U2’s concert raised about $10 million for the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland. That charity work is outstanding and all would applaud that fundraising effort to help children.

But political stunts and corporate events don’t mix.

It’s ironic to think that a #CRM software company like Salesforce didn’t do a better job of managing all of its Dreamforce customer relationships.

Next time, leave the politics out of it.

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