NEW YORK: Americans are becoming more adamant about companies speaking up on political and social issues. The percentage of consumers who strongly agree that companies should take a stand on hot topics jumped six points from last year in Global Strategy Group’s latest Business and Politics report.
The study was released after a tumultuous year of many companies distancing themselves from President Donald Trump’s administration and becoming more engaged in political issues. Eighty one percent of respondents said companies should take action on important societal issues.
"There has always been this expectation on the part of Americans, but we’ve seen that expectation intensify," said Julie Hootkin, author of the report and co-lead of GSG’s corporate impact practice. "What we're seeing is companies are recognizing this expectation in a new and different way. They're understanding the demand from their stakeholders because consumers feel more intensely about it and because more companies are stepping out about it."
The percentage of people who said they actively seek information about a company’s position on a social issue rose 10 points in 2017 to 32%, and that number was even higher among millennials (42%).
While Americans are expecting more from corporations when it comes to social issues, they’re also expecting it more quickly. Half of consumers said that a company should respond within 24 hours of an event, up 15 points from the most recent report.
"The role immediacy plays in this year’s study is very significant," Hootkin said. "There is a heightened expectation of real-time engagement and a heightened pace of communications. Companies need to be prepared and engage at a pace that they have not had to do historically."
The report highlighted its findings in a case study about the corporate response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Trump’s remarks afterward. Merck CEO Ken Frazier, who was the first to step down from Trump’s business council after Charlottesville, gave the pharma company a reputation boost, with favorable views going up 22 points.
The corporations represented in Trump’s councils that took no action after Charlottesville saw a corresponding reputational dip. Lockheed Martin, for example, lost 14 points in its favorability rating, according to the report.
Hootkin said PR pros, executives, and corporations will need to work faster and plan for more scenarios. One way to make that work easier, she said, is to focus on corporate values.
"The most practical takeaway is that it is incumbent on corporations to have a clear understanding of their values and how they apply their values to the suite of political and social issues they are inevitably going to encounter," Hootkin said. "The more companies have a firm grasp on their corporate values, and those values can serve as a north star, the more authentic their response is going to be be viewed."
The report also stressed that responding to a political or social issue is not just good for reputation or corporate citizenship, it’s also good for business. More than three-quarters of consumers agreed that taking a stance on an issue can help a company’s bottom line.
"It’s not just engagement for engagement sake or activism for activism’s sake," Hootkin said. "There is a level of authenticity that is desired and rewarded here."