CW Senior Editor Jessica Burnette-Lemon asked industry influencer Dorothy Crenshaw to weigh in on when brands should be become advocates for political and social issues, and how to do so credibly. Crenshaw speaks frequently on brand-building, marketing to women, and reputation topics. She serves on the board of Charity Navigator and is a regular blogger for the American Marketing Association’s Executive Circle. After serving in roles at Grey Advertising and Edelman Worldwide, she founded Crenshaw Communications in 2009.
Jessica Burnette-Lemon: What kind of criteria should communication/PR professionals consider when advising CEOs about taking a stand on political or social issues?
Dorothy Crenshaw: First, it’s critical to have clear goals for communicating any position involving social or political advocacy. Advocacy works as a blunt instrument. It’s not necessarily useful for attracting new customers; rather, it builds or deepens relationships with like-minded people. It is how an organization and its brand become truly relevant to values-driven groups of customers and others.
It’s also important to ask the simple question: Is the stand consistent with our values? For a position to make sense for a corporate brand, it should speak to the beliefs of the company’s most important stakeholders—usually customers and employees.
Remember when Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy spoke against marriage equality? It generated a lot of coverage, much if it negative, and it sparked boycotts. Yet it wasn’t really a departure from the chain’s values. Chick-fil-A has openly embraced what it sees as traditional Christian practices—its stores are closed on Sundays, for example. The controversy wasn’t particularly good for the brand, and Cathy ultimately vowed to keep his political opinions to himself, but it didn’t damage Chick-fil-A with its core customers.
Contrast that with former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s recent flirtation with a U.S....
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