Welcome to the Age of Corporate Advocacy
The division of wealth is a major, top-of-mind issue for many Americans. Companies now exert unprecedented influence funding and affecting the direction of our country’s resources and policies. That sounds like a bad thing. At the same time, the raft of wrong-headed “religious freedom” bills have received harsh pushback from many major corporations—undoubtedly a good use of their power. In this world of increased corporate social advocacy on behalf of consumers, is your company ready to play ball?
I’m hesitant to get too political at work, but sometimes a writer has to call it like it is. I want to salute the many companies standing up against states enacting segregating laws that are further dividing our country.
Beyond states and cities that have banned or limited travel to Mississippi and North Carolina—this year’s social offenders du jour—Disney, Marvel, Salesforce, PayPal, General Electric, Hyatt Hotels and Hewlett-Packard (among many others) have spoken out against these “religious freedom” laws. Even some professional sports leagues have joined the chorus of outrage.
Is it a good thing that our politics and business are melding? Probably not, but this is where we are. I sympathize with large companies not wanting a part of these situations, but it’s inevitable in a world where consumers place strong feelings and demands on brands they associate with.
Lobbying is nothing new and, going back to at least the 1970s, companies have spent major money to influence politics. The difference compared with today is that much of that political lobbying was behind closed doors. Now it's with a TV camera in your face or, especially recently, more overt with companies sending op-ed pieces to national newspapers.
Just like every company needs a crisis management plan just in case, at least discussing how your company will navigate these politically charged waters seems wise. Chick-fil-A is a good example. Anything can happen, and you can’t predict when unexpected new laws or situations will put your company in a position where it needs to take a stand.
If a societal or political issue would impact your business, its supply chain or its customers (think minimum wage, immigration policies, gender- or race-based discrimination, etc.), your company needs to be ready to confidently state its beliefs. Your customers will be waiting and, in some cases, expecting your company to take a stand. Ready or not, this hypothetical is headed your way.