Only 18% of Brands Very Likely to Speak Out on Societal Issues Despite Stakeholder Demands, New Peppercomm/Ragan Communications Study Reveals

Peppercomm

Less than one-quarter of communications pros have a playbook for knowing when and how to take a stand; Peppercomm launches new issues and crisis management solution to categorize and mitigate risks of speaking out

Peppercomm, a leading strategic communications and marketing agency, announced the findings of a groundbreaking new study on corporate character and the debut of the Corporate Character Barometer, a quarterly metric of brands’ willingness to speak out to stakeholders on important societal issues. The agency partnered with Ragan Communications, the leading resource and publisher of information about corporate communications, internal communications and employee engagement, on this research.

Peppercomm also launched today its new issues and crisis communications solution, RepCompass, that guides organizations through the development of an issues response framework aligned to their unique values and stakeholders, and successfully prepares for those critical moments when they have an opportunity to speak out (or not).

“Increasingly, all stakeholders — from consumers and businesses partners to employees and community members — want to engage with brands that align with their values. But, far too often, organizations hide their heads in the sand because they are reluctant to ‘take sides’,” said Steve Cody, CEO, Peppercomm. “Fortunately, there are strategies any organization can use to mitigate risk while seizing opportunities to connect with their audiences on issues that are deeply important to them.”

Survey: brands reluctant, unprepared to claim a POV

In conjunction with Ragan Communications, Peppercomm deployed a survey to nearly 400 communications professionals in September 2022. The survey focused on corporate character: Are brands ready, willing and able to help enter the conversation around important societal issues, ranging from voting rights to climate change?

While 70% of consumers believe it’s important for brands to take a stand on social issues according to SproutSocial, our survey showed that more than half (55%) of communicators said their organizations are unlikely to take a stand on any topic in the coming quarter. These numbers stand in stark contrast to another key statistic: 66% said it is important to their employees that the CEO communicates a point of view on controversial issues. This indicates a massive gap in company behavior versus stakeholder expectations, which can lead to serious problems for brands.

Our survey suggests that a major reason many brands are reluctant to speak out is because they are not fully prepared. Only 23% said they have created frameworks or playbooks to help their brand make timely, rational decisions and respond to recent societal controversies. About 20% said they started but did not finish their playbooks, while the majority (51%) reported they have no playbooks in place.

Corporate Confidence Barometer debuts at 18 out of 100

The survey forms the foundation for the new Peppercomm/Ragan Corporate Character Barometer (CCB). This index gauges on a scale of 0 to 100 how willing organizations and their leaders are to speak out on the societal issues making headlines at any given time. Today, the CCB makes its debut at 18, indicating that only 18% of organizations are very likely to speak out in the coming quarter. The CCB will be updated on a quarterly basis.

A new solution to help brands mitigate reputational risk

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Our conversations with communicators showed another key challenge: Not just deciding if they should speak out, but truly understanding if their brand has the credibility to do so. They reported that the risk of speaking out is exacerbated by the potential for being called out for not walking the talk. Many communications leaders report lacking the ability to take a look inside their organizations to ascertain all their risks. Understanding where gaps exist is critical to informing a process or playbook, but many say they lack the objectivity to do it themselves.

Peppercomm’s new issues and crisis communications offering, RepCompass, fills that gap by helping clients to remove the emotion from the decision-making process and determine both the risks and potential benefits of speaking out and guiding senior leaders through the decision-making framework. Data-driven and stakeholder-centric, RepCompass provides a critical reality check by delivering answers to questions such as: Should we speak out on a societal issue? If so, when and to whom? Do we have the credibility to do so? Are we prepared to respond to potential backlash and detractors?

“In the ongoing debate around brands speaking out, one thing is clear: Stakeholders are tired of empty statements that lack real action. They are looking for organizations to walk the talk,” said Jacqueline Kolek, Peppercomm’s Chief Innovation Officer. “Existing frameworks need to evolve to consider the brand’s purpose and values, along with stakeholder sentiment, to understand if they have the authenticity to speak out on certain issues. Brands that create effective playbooks for determining if, when and how to respond to societal issues can not only reduce their risk of doing so, but also forge deeper connections with their audiences.”

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