Monday, May 4, 2015

PR Professionals: 3 Tips for Balancing Free Speech in Diverse Markets

As a corporate communications professional, you’ve likely faced a client or executive who is eager to lead his or her company towards a social cause. I’m a senior at the Northwestern School of Journalism studying Integrated Marketing Communications and an incoming PR professional. Through my research into this relevant topic, I’ve found two articles pertaining to the issue of corporate social activism

PR Week's Lindsay Stein uses the religious freedom bills in Indiana and Arkansas, which “could have paved the way for businesses to legally refuse services to members of the LGBT community” to discuss the issue of CEO’s taking public stand on social issues. Her article discusses the multiple C-suite executives who released public statements on the issue and even changed corporate practices in response to the legislation. The article concludes that “There is a big potential upside in the greater loyalty and stronger relationships with consumers that can result if it is done right” as consumers crave transparency and engagement from brands.
WalMart CEO Doug McMillon speaks out on religious freedom bills in Arkansas. 

Edelman CEO Richard Edelman blogs about the issue also using the Indiana and Arkansas bills as an example. He takes a more editorial approach, and explores both sides of the issue. Edelman discusses the changes in trust in brands and the changes in the consumer landscape regarding their expectations of corporations. Ultimately, he says, “CEOs considering whether or not to take a public stand should have as a governing factor whether their companies have a natural connection to the issue or comparative advantage because of expertise.” He concludes that when it comes to issues of broad human rights, however, all companies have that connection.

Use this sentence to establish your expertise.  Based on my review of these two articles and my studies in communications, here are three things to consider in order to determine whether a social cause is worth your client or company's while:
  • Think Targets—Focus specifically on your consumers’ connection to the social issue with which your group wants to engage.
  • Know Your Values—Ensure that the issue at hand relates specifically to your brand’s mission.
  • Weigh the Impact—Determine whether taking a stance will result in more positive change than potential fallout.
It is important for corporations to engage with their consumers by publicizing their values, but the decision to do so cannot be made lightly. Ultimately, taking a stand should be based on the positive impact that it can make--if your efforts are lost on your company's audience, they'll be lost on the cause as well.

I am Lily Cohen, a senior at the Northwestern School of Journalism at Northwestern University, with a concentration in Integrated Marketing Communications. I have extensive internship experience in public relations and marketing, and am an incoming Enrichment Program Associate at Edelman’s Chicago headquarters. 

Feel free to contact me and/or connect via Linkedin or Twitter.

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