As communicators, an important part of our job is to keep a pulse on the stories, trends, and other newsworthy topics that are making headlines. It’s equally critical that we understand their implications and be prepared to counsel our clients accordingly. That idea has been especially apparent during this year’s Pride Month.
Pride Month is undoubtedly taking place in a much more complex environment, feeling quite different from recent years past. Amidst a growing volume of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, and increasingly anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment, many brands have made the decision to tone down their Pride celebrations and related initiatives or to even switch their strategy mid-campaign.
To that end, as part of RF|Binder’s Social Justice Committee work, members of the committee’s Daily Impact team developed the Daily Impact Digest, which highlights brands in the news surrounding issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The purpose of the Digest is to encourage everyone to think critically about and discuss these issues and consider how they could impact our clients.
We recently held a firmwide discussion, focusing on Bud Light, Target, and The North Face – brands that have garnered significant attention during this year’s Pride Month and in the weeks prior. Using question prompts provided by the Daily Impact team, we discussed their actions, how we might have responded as advisors, and what the repercussions could mean for reputation management.
From this discussion stemmed some key concepts we all agreed are essential for brands as they navigate societal issues and cultural moments:
- Understand your purpose. Having a clearly articulated purpose statement is not only necessary for brands, but also serves as a guiding principle for organizations that are looking to take a stand when it comes to societal issues. It is critical for brands to have complete alignment in what they say and what they do. When brands have a clearly articulated and defined brand purpose, it allows them to act and communicate with authenticity.
- Emphasize the ‘partner’ in partnerships. As brands look to partner with diverse organizations and individuals, such as LGBTQ+ influencers, they should fully support those partnerships and see them as long-term investments, especially in cases of backlash. Otherwise, the damage can take a toll, not only on the relationships with those partners, but also on a company’s reputation. In the case of influencers, most do not have the legal or financial backing that larger companies do, putting them in a difficult situation if they should experience any negative repercussions from a partnership.
- Have a risk mitigation plan. Any given brand that takes a stand on a particular issue could be faced with unhappy or disappointed customers. Therefore, having a risk mitigation plan can help monitor and/or prepare for potential backlash. That said, brands should also stay true to their purpose and understand the decision behind why they chose to engage in an issue in the first place and have that reasoning be core to their response plan.
- Make your commitments as long-term as possible. Whether it is for Pride Month or any other cultural moment in time that celebrates or raises awareness of a particular issue, it goes without saying that companies that choose to support that community and/or issue should be doing so in an ongoing, consistent way throughout the year.
- Above all, know your starting point. Any brand that makes the decision to develop more inclusive practices and programs is a good first step, but it isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes time and intentional effort to understand issues before you engage in them. By talking to employees, community groups, consumers, and others, for example, brands can better determine how and where they can activate on their purpose. It is critical to have internal alignment across all your operations, policies, and external strategies before taking a stand on an issue.