The Dawn of CEO Activism

Thursday 23 June, 2016
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Weber Shandwick, in partnership with KRC Research, released The Dawn of CEO Activism. This survey of American adults gauges awareness of and attitudes toward CEOs speaking out on important societal issues. We have identified CEO activism as a new dynamic executive engagement platform that has the ability to drive and differentiate corporate reputation. The research found that nearly 40% of American adults believe that it is a CEO’s duty to engage with and speak out on hot-button issues. While CEO activism has the potential to render rewards for the CEO and the company’s bottom line, the risks must be identified and addressed accordingly.

Our research finds that Americans hold a more favourable opinion of CEOs who take public stances on controversial topics (31% more favourable vs. 22% less favourable). CEO activists, however, are encouraged to proceed with healthy caution when determining the subject of issues they speak out on since more than three in 10 Americans (32%) hold a less favourable view of CEOs who speak out on issues that are not clearly tied to the company’s core business. Additionally, the public does not fully credit CEOs’ motives for activism, citing media attention and CEO reputation-building as the top reasons CEOs take public stands.

Our research also finds that CEO activism influences purchase intent, both positively and negatively. While 40% of Americans are more likely to buy from a company when they agree on the issue, a comparable number, 45%, are less likely to buy if they disagree with the CEO’s position.  The topic also has generational differences, as Millennials (18-35 year olds) are more inclined to favour CEO activism.

Weber Shandwick’s The Dawn of CEO Activism provides 12 guidelines for companies and their leaders to consider when speaking out on hot-button issues. Click here to view our full report.