Time Magazine chose Taylor Swift as Person of the Year, offering a jump-off to examine the challenges faced by CEO’s and nonprofit executives in today’s climate of intense consumer activism and digital scrutiny, highlighting how modern boycotts and activism can cause lasting reputational damage to brands, unlike in the past. The article emphasizes the need for proactive crisis management and strategic planning, underscoring the importance of understanding global and local sentiments. It also points out the increased stakes in maintaining corporate and institutional reputation in a media landscape characterized by reduced brand loyalty and heightened consumer awareness.
Here, our friends at Delve, in Washington, D.C., offer insights into consumer activism, digital scrutiny and modern boycotts.
America has voted, or at least TIME’s editors, and Taylor Swift is the Person of the Year. If you are in corporate public affairs though, a more apt choice might be Dylan Mulvaney photographed in a certain swimsuit purchased at Target. That’s because while most Americans may agree on Taylor’s version, there are plenty of forces arrayed on both sides of our politics to keep us from shaking off polarization on many other cultural issues. As a result, corporate public affairs professionals are living in a post-Bud Light era in which anyone can be a Target.
In the last six months, we have seen a continuous drumbeat of consumer activism directed at even the most established brands, and unlike past boycotts and activism, it is causing real and lasting reputational damage. In the post-Bud Light era, any company, regardless of size or reputation, can become a target for public backlash and boycotts.
It is all happening as companies learn how challenging it can be to navigate our new stakeholder economy. As our CEO noted recently in Forbes, “the ease of digital activism empowers stakeholders to voice their concerns and apply pressure more swiftly than ever before.” Here’s what you need to know to navigate this newly complex landscape.
Today’s boycotts are far from the grassroots movements of the past. They have evolved into highly professionalized, digitized, and globalized campaigns. Activist groups, often perceived by the media as the ‘Davids’ in a battle against corporate ‘Goliaths’, are increasingly well-resourced and highly coordinated. This shift means that any public relations crisis is not just a local or isolated event but can quickly gain global attention. Any misstep by an organization can become a catalyst for these well-prepared groups, who may have been waiting for just such an opportunity to advance their broader agendas. This reality means companies must be acutely aware of potential issues into which they could inadvertently step, because once the rage machine spins up, the damage has been done.
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