Survey Shows Support of Companies Speaking on Social Issues

Thom Weidlich 04.21.22


PR pros, journalists and others believe the positives of companies speaking out on social issues — itself a hot-button topic — exceed the negatives, according to a new survey that is useful for organizations struggling with how to navigate the trend.

The USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations queried public-relations pros, journalists, educators and students online between Jan. 4 and Feb. 4. There were 1,600 responses.

“For many of the organizations represented in our survey, the benefit of engaging in social issues outweighs the risk,” according to the report, “The Future of Corporate Activism.” For example, 78 percent of respondents agreed that “business has a responsibility to speak out on issues that align with their brand purpose/mission.”

Brand Reputation

The reasons most mentioned for support of the controversial practice are increased brand reputation, improved employee morale and the ability to attract new employees and customers.

According to the respondents, the top topics companies should address are racial equality (53 percent), gender equality (44 percent), climate change (41 percent) and COVID vaccines (35 percent). The survey also found that since 2020, with the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the rise of the Black Lives Matter protests, companies have upped their diversity issues addressed.

A strong majority, 85 percent, said they think the number of businesses advocating for a cause will increase over the next five years, and 79 percent said their own companies would do so. The reasons are interesting:

  • a commitment to positive social change (44%)
  • it aligns with our/their values (41%)
  • it is the right thing to do (36%)
  • enhance brand reputation (33%)
  • customer demand (23%)
  • attract the best talent (22%)
  • employee requests (20%)
  • senior management priorities (17%)
  • other companies are getting involved (15%)
  • increase sales (13%)
  • activist pressure (13%)

Management Resistance

Asked if they have an executive in charge of activism, 35 percent of in-house respondents said they do while 59 percent of agency people said yes. Yet 45 percent said they’ve experienced resistance from management in trying to incorporate social issues and 55 percent of agency people said they did so from clients.

The most important channels for the social activism (not surprisingly) were social media, employee communications, media relations and the company website.

The top five companies named by PR professionals as effectively communicating their corporate purpose were Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, Nike, Apple and Disney.

So, all interesting information to have on a subject that vexes organizations and a practice that often leads to crises. They don’t have to: The secret is to be prepared.

Photo Credit: Maria Oswalt/Unsplash

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