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Welcome to the new era of corporate advocacy
Judy Shapiro , Editor | Apr 25, 2018
Title: CEO & Founder
Topic category: Big data dangers

For the last ten years, technology has been transforming everyone (literally) into a communications and media company capable of reaching more people cheaper and faster than many advertisers could achieve with paid media in the 1990s. Let that fact really sink in for a moment.

This explains why our public discourse is now reduced to a toxic brew of “extreme voices” meant to shock coupled with ad tech to scale. One consequence is that companies are scrambling to find their corporate voices amidst the quickening pace of false and reprehensible ideas spreading our digital public arena. This puts a spotlight on a heretofore ad lib function called corporate advocacy as companies seek positive ways to impact controversial conversations with a clear positions that reflect the company’s values.

In the past, if this function existed at all, it was a behind-the-scenes marketing/ PR activity, rarely “going public” about a controversial issue given the significant risks. First, successful advocacy is a complex hybrid of marketing, PR, corporate governance and the Zeitgeist that can alienate potential customers if handled badly. Second, there’s the subtler but more chilling risk that corporate advocacy can become “extreme” itself; potentially trampling on individual voices and/ or rights.

Nevertheless, responsible corporate voices both large and small are rising to the challenge and attempting to provide balance amidst the high decibel levels of negative din. These best practices will provide guidance as companies navigate these difficult advocacy waters:

1) Expand the role of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Function to include an overt function of corporate advocacy. Most often, advocacy is an irregular activity usually tucked away in bigger marketing functions. For corporate advocacy to have an impact it must come out of the shadows with a clear home. CSR teams (versus PR or communications teams) are best equipped to be sensitive to diverse stakeholders given their ongoing role as guardian of a company’s “soul.” Their normal activities like charity/ cause sponsorship, mentorship/ education programs or local-community based projects now take on new scope; charged with crafting the company’s advocacy position as the rapid response team to provide clear communications direction based on the company’s mission statement.

2) Translate Corporate Advocacy into Activism. This is tricky and requires corporate guts to translate corporate advocacy across marketing functions. Some tactics include redistributing ad dollars from specific programs or ad tech platforms as we recently saw when advertisers withdrew money from Laura Ingraham’s show. Key to any action though is a public statement about why the company is taking the action and possibly a statement about where dollars are going to draw attention to partners that are consistent with corporate values.

3) Prepare for The Fall-Out. With our public discourse dominated by confident “haters,” companies should expect fall-out. This reality shouldn’t deter companies from taking a stand but should inform the response when these voices, inevitably, rear their ugly heads. In this toxic environment, responsible responses should be pointed, direct yet with authenticity as with Skittles when their product was used to make a political point by Trump Jr.

Today, the real costs of neutrality is becoming more obvious as Eli Wiesel famously noted: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” As corporations observe the perverse tone of public discourse, a new form of Corporate Advocacy awareness is rising that challenges the decades-long “neutrality” mandate. Welcome to new era of Corporate Advocacy.

Tags: Patagonia, Warby Parker, Lush, Ben & Jerry’s, L’OCCITANE, GiftAMeal, advocacy, adtech, martech, corporate
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