August 29, 2018

CEOs on Soapboxes: A Necessary Evil?

According to two recent studies, the days of CEOs staying out of politics are pretty much over. The jury’s out on whether that’s good for business. This Weber Shandwick study says that 46% of people are more likely to buy from a company whose CEO speaks out on an issue (that they agree with), but 35% of people have boycotted a company because of CEO activism. And 7% of people say it’s led them to buy a company’s stock – while 5% say it’s led them to sell. This Morning Consult study reflects similar findings.

With stats like that, you might think CEOs should just avoid risk by keeping a low profile. That might’ve worked 5 years ago – but now a big chunk of people view silence as activism too. This WSJ op-ed suggests that it’s as likely to alienate customers & business partners as public declarations. It contends that the way to simultaneously please the “stick to business” crowd & the “social justice” crowd is to make statements that link the issue to the company’s bottom line – not personal moral views.

Board Oversight of CEO Political Activism

If CEO social & political activism is the “new normal,” the next question is whether – and how – boards can manage the related risks & opportunities. This “Corporate Board Member” article and this NACD article give some recommendations on how to proactively establish CEO communication guidelines that address:

1. The company’s mission, audiences, and relevant social & political issues

2. How to handle specific topics (Practice in advance. Get diverse views to recognize “blind spots.”)

3. Whether & how to use social media

4. Using a “personal opinion” disclaimer for comments related to the CEO’s personal convictions

5. Ways to monitor sentiments of employees, shareholders & other stakeholders – and make timely updates to company policies on evolving issues

6. How the CEO’s internal & external communications will be evaluated as part of the performance review

Meanwhile, if your CEO has somehow stuck their foot in their mouth, this WSJ article offers some tips for damage control. For more on this topic, tune in on November 28th for our webcast: “How Boards Should Handle Politics as a Governance Risk.”

More on “Impact Investing: Continued Growth”

Earlier this month, I blogged about a heightened focus on “impact investing” among funds, foundations, banks, family offices and pension funds. This study (from an asset manager that specializes in impact investing) suggests that’s probably a result of client demand. About half of the 1000 survey participants were interested in using their investment dollars to make a positive impact on society, in addition to their obvious desire to garner a financial return. Here are the finer points:

– 49% of people found impact investing “appealing” – compared to 38% in 2016
– 56% of Millennials are interested in impact investing – compared to 52% of Gen Xers and 44% of Boomers
– 45% of people say they intentionally choose to do business with companies whose “values align” with their own
– Popular causes for impact investing ranked as healthcare/disease prevention, environment/sustainability, education, mitigating poverty, and alignment with religious principles

Liz Dunshee