Survey Finds "Brands Taking Stands"​ Phenomenon is Here to Stay

An interview with 3BL Media CMO Dave Armon
Dec 3, 2018 8:45 AM ET

by Jeff Hoffman, Founding Leader of The Conference Board’s Center on Corporate Citizenship and Philanthropy

A longtime marketing and content partner of The Conference Board, 3BL Media has its finger on the pulse of the communications practices of companies with active corporate responsibility programs.

The theme of its 3BL Forum in October was Brands Taking Stands. This topic has also been part of recent discussions at The Conference Board’s Corporate Citizenship Councils and Conference, addressing in particular how we as CSR professionals navigate through these turbulent times. I had an opportunity to discuss insights learned from the forum with 3BL’s Chief Marketing Officer Dave Armon.

Q: What made you emphasize corporate activism as the main topic of the conference?

Dave Armon: When we purchased CR Magazine, one of the assets was a conference called COMMIT!Forum. We rebranded it, moved it to Washington and chose to dig into the trend of companies weighing in on environmental, social and governance topics, which the investor markets address under the acronym ESG. 

Pioneers in brand activism like Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia have inspired Blue Chip companies to use their voice even on topics that, in prior years, used to be considered too political to broach without significant risk. Examples are the 3,000+ companies signing the “We’re Still In” pledge urging the Trump administration not to abandon the Paris Climate Agreement. Microsoft went on the record that it would use its considerable legal muscle to protect “Dreamers” if DACA protections were eliminated. The NCAA, Salesforce, Angie’s List and IBM protested so-called bathroom bills in North Carolina and Texas. Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart took action limiting sales of guns to minors. PwC created a consortium to encourage a healthy dialog about race inside American companies; CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion now has 550 signatories.

Jeff: You’ve recently conducted research on this trend. Care to share?

Dave: Sure. The research is very fresh, having been conducted in September and October by GlobeScan. Eight out of 10 corporate leaders believe companies now have an obligation to speak out on ESG issues. Here are the details:

  • Eighty-two percent of respondents said it is necessary for companies today to advocate for or take a stand on ESG issues. Five percent said it was unnecessary.
  • Sixty-two percent felt that advocacy by CEOs, rather than by the company, will increase in the next 18 months.
  • When asked to specify the three highest priorities for their organizations over the next 18 months, top responses were Brand Values, Climate and Environment, and Diversity and Inclusion. Runners up were Governance policies on ethics and accountability, followed by STEM Education. 
  • Motivators for companies to take stands on ESG topics are to 1) enhance their reputation, 2) show a commitment beyond profit, and 3) meet employee expectations.
  • Benefits of speaking out are 1) personnel recruitment, 2) employee retention and 3) brand equity.

Jeff: Tell me a little bit about who GlobeScan interviewed for this study?

Dave: After last year’s 3BL Forum, we wanted to learn about the advocacy dilemma and its trajectory, so we asked GlobeScan to survey board members, business owners and corporate executives. Half the responses came from the corporate sector. Other respondents were associated with nonprofits and NGOs, policymakers, academia and professional services providers.

Jeff: What are your main takeaways?

Dave: It’s early days for this movement. Ben & Jerry’s, Tom’s of Maine and Patagonia have been doing this for a while. But for legacy companies that didn’t always have purpose steeped into their DNA, this data addresses how it’s working so far.

For The Conference Board members interested in tracking this issue further, we offer a free weekly newsletter called, appropriately, Brands Taking Stands. The registration page:

First published by The Conference Board on November 20, 2018