Background Image

Speaking Out on Issues of Public Importance Is the New Normal for CEOs

The swift response seen across Corporate America in the wake of the capitol riots on Jan 6th demonstrates how executive leadership in the tech world is growing as a powerful influence, and in some cases, even an effective check to presidential power when the government’s own stakeholders struggle to act.

From Facebook and Twitter’s ban of election misinformation posts and shuttering of President Trump’s social media accounts, to AWS, Apple and Google’s (plus a host of others) suspension of services to social media platform Parler, moves made by tech leadership sent a powerful message to Washington that technology leaders are more willing to speak up and take action on matters that affect employees, customers and the greater public at large than perhaps ever before.

This isn’t the position that most technology executives likely saw themselves in even a few years ago. The responsibility of executives to speak out on key societal issues has intensified over the past four years, with 2020 ushering in what may be a new era for executive leadership. From the US coronavirus response, racial justice, and the 2020 election, there have been many instances in which Corporate America has drawn outside the lines of safe, comfortable oratory that soothes every possible stakeholder —  to push for change, support causes and decry injustice. In many cases, the internal and external communications was followed swiftly by meaningful action on urgent issues of public importance – as executives realize their words can only go so far to influence and create change.

Employees, meanwhile, are continuing to put pressure on their leadership. They want to work for companies that uphold their values and that are making meaningful contributions to the world. And they’ll leave if executives can’t live up to those standards.

As we kick off a new administration this week, expect that employees and key stakeholders will continue to demand communication and action from C-suite executives on a broader range of issues beyond those that simply tie back to products and services. And as you prepare your C-suite to navigate these new pressures, keep these comms recommendations in mind:

  1. Know when it’s time to speak out on an issue – Does the issue impact your employees or customers? Does it tie directly to your company or indirectly via a partnership, supply chain, etc.? If yes, then proactive comms is required right away and the issue must be addressed directly.
  2. Live & enforce your company values regularly – Make sure that company values are clear and reinforced daily. Lean on them in deciding how to respond to matters of public importance. It’s easier to counter stakeholder backlash if your values and policies are being practiced authentically and consistently and your words and actions reinforce those values.
  3. Be transparent with employees first– Communicate to employees first about matters of critical importance to the company and its reputation, but know that internal comms are now external comms, too. Anticipate that internal memos may be publicly shared and could go viral.

We’ve entered a new reality for the C-suite. The transparent discussion, enforcement and upholding of company values will be scrutinized closely; by customers, employees, partners, media, investors and more. Executives must live up to this new reality – continuing to show up when it matters, and lead and inspire through their words and actions.

Want to hear more from our executive comms and media strategy leaders? Join our webinar, Exec Comms 2021: Navigating a New Era, on January 26th. Our team will cover: the trends driving the media narrative into 2021, the increased scrutiny of tech’s influence, the broadening responsibility and pressure executives are now under to speak up, and the increasing consequences of getting it wrong. Who won? Who lost? And how should you change your executive comms strategies going forward?