More, Please!

A version of this post appeared in PR-Journal.

Some companies take a stand, such as opposing xenophobia or championing an open and strong Europe. Does this scare their stakeholders? Does it harm their reputations? No. It may require more courage and energy for them to stay on course, but in the end taking a stand creates trust among employees and other stakeholders.

The German supermarket Edeka garnered great attention in social media with a “spontaneous” anti-racism campaign in one of their stores in Hamburg. The smoothie producer true fruits caused a stir when they released a poster campaign against xenophobia. With the campaign #menschwachauf (Wake Up, Man!) the beverage producer Fritz-Kola called for protest at the G20 summit with posters that showed a snoozing Putin, Erdogan or Trump. The alliance We4Europe promotes an open and strong Europe. These recent examples have generated much discussion. Why? Because they hold up a mirror to our society, shake us up and (hopefully) kick-start some radical re-thinking in our minds. Not everyone likes to be shaken up, however, so some campaigns can polarize people quite a bit.

But do companies and brands stand to lose the trust of stakeholders and damage their own reputation when releasing such campaigns? No, on the contrary. Companies and brands are now expected to discuss sociopolitical matters. Expressing strong values, taking a stand, contributing to the solution-finding process to social problems, and being approachable — these are what matter today. And they do not conflict with economic success. In the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, 73 percent of German respondents (globally, 75 percent) agree that a company can take specific actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions the community where it operates. That´s excellent news, so please, show us more!

Certainly, this is easier said than done. The world has changed dramatically, moves faster and is more complex than ever before. Pressure has increased on business leaders to incorporate social responsibilities into their business models. Living up to values, expressing a clear position on the issues and taking a stand are part of the daily responsibilities of any CEO. Naturally, it requires courage to pioneer. But sometimes we should just go ahead and do things. Inaction and remaining silent are no longer an option. Potential criticism and headwinds – even if we may overshoot sometimes – must and can be withstood eventually. When companies and brands take a stand, they stand out for employees, customers and partners – and this creates trust.

Susanne Marell is CEO of Edelman.ergo.

David Cohen