Silence is deadly for brands in the wake of social movements.
Strong visibility and communication capabilities that social media presents means that brands are expected to make statements regarding social issues. But what is the right response when most social issues have polarizing views? There’s so much pressure for brands to use their platform for good, but the backlash that comes from the wrong response can be a PR nightmare.
We can look at the recent crisis Disney faced when they botched their response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. Staying silent in the weeks that followed the passing of the bill, Disney faced backlash from the general public and LBGTQ+ advocacy groups. When then CEO, Bob Chapek finally did respond, the political and social backlash was, and continues to be, catastrophic for the corporation.
By letting an extended period of time pass before Disney spoke out, they upset a lot of people and tarnished their reputation.
The big question being posed is whether brands should take a stand on a social issue. There’s an arduous conversation surrounding this with the public, shareholders and politicians all having differing opinions. The simple answer is: It depends.
Is the brand’s business rooted in advocacy issues? What does the customer base look like? 46% of Millennials expect their brands to take a stance on social issues, followed by 42% of Gen Z. It would probably be in a brand’s best interest to release a statement on a particular social issue if many of its customers fall into those generations. However, doing research to ensure the issue resonates with customers strongly enough that they would expect a statement is smart. Disney has a very loyal fanbase, many of whom identify has LGBTQ+. Having such a strong presence in Florida, the issue hit too close to home for Disney to remain silent for so long.
There are risks and rewards to brand activism. A PR agency can help conduct the research and create a response plan accordingly.
A few other ways PR helps brands navigate the appropriate response:
- Deciding the right platform to announce the brand’s stance.
- Working with the brand to craft the right message.
- Helping mitigate any negative responses following the statement.
Unlike Disney, accounting for all possible backlash to taking a stance in a social crisis is critical. A crisis communications plan for these scenarios should be created and ready for use should any backlash arise. This is another way PR plays a major role. PR professionals have the necessary tools to research, plan and implement response tactics. Taking a stance on a social issue doesn’t have to become a brand’s focus, and recruiting help from a PR agency can help executives focus on core business functions.
Companies need to understand that expectations of businesses from society are changing. Even if a business has not yet been confronted with a decision of whether to speak out on a potentially controversial topic, they will likely find themselves needing to make this decision in the future. Having a trusted PR firm to guide the process can be a differentiating factor in how the situation plays out.