There’s plenty of research showing that consumers and employees – particularly millennial and Gen Z cohorts – expect companies to comment on crucial societal issues such as social justice, climate change, inequality and voting rights, just to name a few. Many CEOs agree, as do marketers. In 2020, Deloitte’s annual Chief Marketing Officer survey found that more than 80% of CMOs didn’t think a brand should take a side on a politically charged issue. In 2021, that viewpoint has shifted, with 43% saying it’s appropriate to do so.
But there’s a balancing act of possibilities to consider, ranging from employee disagreements over which issues are important, conflicting consumer viewpoints, stakeholder feedback and determining the what, when, where, how (and how often) to engage on these issues.
How to strike that balance is more complex and nuanced than can be addressed in any single blog post, but the high-level framework for outlining a company’s approach to corporate social advocacy should include:
A grounding in company values, purpose, mission, and culture. Start from the inside out. It’s crucial to level set what you say and support externally with what you stand for and believe in internally.
A strategy for engagement. What is the overall strategy for the company or brand? What is the goal of engagement? What are the expectations from your stakeholders (if any)?
A focus on depth versus breadth. As we’ve seen over the last several years, there’s no shortage of issues that warrant attention. What are the core issues on which you feel the brand can have a meaningful impact? Focusing on depth versus breadth has benefits besides the obvious (helping society); it also sets consumer expectations for what the company and CEO are prepared to comment on and provides a clarity of purpose for employees.
Allocating resources. Ideally, there should be a cross-functional team within the organization that keeps a pulse on the issues you’ve defined, gathers and assesses stakeholder feedback and engages with organizations or individuals that mirror your priorities. The communications team should be in lock step with this group, as every decision informs social media strategy, media relations, employee engagement and other stakeholder engagement.
The above just scratches the surface of how brands should think about social advocacy. At Coyne, we are strong believers that business can make a significant contribution to society and improve people’s lives. It’s clear we’re not alone in that thinking.
For more insight into this topic, please check out our recent podcast with PRWeek featuring Tim Schramm, Executive Vice President of Corporate Communications at Coyne PR and Kimberly Whitler, Frank M. Sands Sr. Associate Professor of Business Administration, Darden School of Business.