Diana Marszalek 11 Feb 2018 // 9:57AM GMT
NEW YORK — New studies from Global Strategy Group and APCO Worldwide confirm that consumer activism is on the rise — so much so that companies are better off taking controversial stances on issues rather than doing nothing at all.
“There is a new standard for corporations today. Americans expect companies to stand up for what they believe, even if it’s controversial,” said Julie Hootkin, partner and co-lead of GSG’s corporate impact practice. “It’s no longer safe for corporations to sit on the sidelines."
GSG’s 5th annual business and politics report, Call to Action in the Age of Trump, found 76% of US consumers believe companies should stand up for what they believe in regardless of how it plays. That number is up from 70% in 2016.
On top of that, half the study’s respondents, which included a mixed group of 807 adults and 303 Washington insiders, said they expect corporations to mobilize by taking action within 24-hours of an issue or event.
The research also found consumers are increasingly backing corporations taking stands on a wide range of issues such as equal pay for women (89%), improving race relations (83%), LGBTQ equality (67%) and immigration reform (66%).
And a growing number of Americans are paying attention, according to the study. Today, 32% of Americans (a 10-point increase), 42% of millennials (an 11-point increase) and 57% of influential Washingtonians actively seek information on corporate values and positions.
APCO’s study, Corporate Advocacy in Five Acts, also found that companies should act with some semblance of urgency, or risk consumer backlash.
That research, based on a survey of 1,000 consumers, found 90% of respondents expect brands to be involved in taking on society’s most pressing concerns. Companies that remain silent risk being seen as out-of-touch and irrelevant.
Whether or not that applies to company leaders as well depends on whom you ask. According to APCO, 65% of Democrats believe it’s important for CEOs to voice strong political opinions, while only 47% of Republicans do. Democrats also outnumber Republicans when it comes to approving of CEOs speaking out on issues from education and hunger to climate change, gender discrimination and gun control.
On the upside for companies, GSG found there may be dollars and cents benefits for the companies that meet consumer expectation. A large majority, 85%, of participants view companies that use their stature to drive change as good corporate citizens, with 78% also believing that taking stands can help those companies financially.
That, however, requires companies to get their corporate advocacy right, according to APCO. Knowing your audience and strengths, taking concrete action rather than just talking about it, treating employees in line with your values, and working cooperatively with other companies are key components of doing that, the study said.