School shootings. Racial inequality. #MeToo. Immigration and trade. There’s no denying it: Societal crises seem to be occurring with greater frequency and—thanks to the 24/7 news cycle and, in the U.S., a bitterly divided country turning to social media to further fan the flames—with greater intensity. Also undeniable? Brands can no longer “sit it out,” as many are finding the fallout from these crises landing right at their doorstep. Just ask any brand that’s been on the wrong end of a tweet from the U.S. president. Or any of the companies who pulled out of the recent “Davos in the Desert” event in Saudi Arabia, in the wake of that country’s apparent role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
It’s not just customers and shareholders who are demanding that their favorite brands speak up. A significant amount of the pressure for companies to engage and respond to emerging societal crises is actually coming from within: According to a 2018 Glassdoor survey, 60 percent of employees expect their company to take a stand on important social and political issues.
Preparation saves the day, and the brand
Whether a company decides to proactively insert itself into a national conversation or simply react when it gets swept up in an emerging crisis, thorough preparation is the key to protecting brand reputation as well as the bottom line in these hyper-partisan, hyper-reactionary times. “CCOs should take full advantage of tools, technologies and frameworks that help them guide their organizations in the 24×7 societal/industry crisis world we live in today,” says Southwest Airlines SVP and CCO Linda Rutherford. However, based on interviews conducted by communication and marketing firm Peppercomm (where one of us works) with more than 50 C-suite executives, an astonishing two-thirds admitted their company was not prepared should it find itself ensnared in a societal crisis....
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