Today’s news landscape is packed with headlines and articles about brands making missteps when it comes to publicly avowing their company culture. The pressure on businesses to take a stand on culturally relevant topics has become even more pronounced given the competitive talent market.

Recent data from a LinkedIn survey found that 87% of Gen Z professionals would quit their job if they felt their firm’s company culture did not align with their personal values. Likewise, 64% of millennials would turn down a job offer if the company did not have a strong corporate social responsibility policy in place, while 83% of those surveyed feel more loyalty towards companies that support social issues, according to software firm Benevity.

Many companies have built their entire brand around social causes. For example, Patagonia’s guiding ethos is to protect the environment. The retailer’s mission statement reads, “We’re in business to save our home planet,” and the company’s product and ad campaigns align with that positioning. So much so that in 2022, the brand’s founder announced that 98% of the company’s shares would go to a nonprofit trust dedicated to saving Planet Earth.

Patagonia may be an extreme example of a company whose brand encapsulates its mission, but businesses across a range of sectors are increasingly motivated to gain a competitive edge by taking a public stand on timely topics that resonate with their employees, stakeholders, and customers.

This approach is not without risk. Amidst stiff competition for talent, companies such as law firms, banks, and real estate and finance firms are suddenly finding themselves weighing the benefits of taking a public stand versus the risks. While doing so may foster loyalty among some segments of your audience, it also opens the door to alienating other segments.

Fortunately for businesses, there are some simple considerations that can maximize the impact of ‘leaning in’ while minimizing – and mitigating – potential risks. The following points apply to companies of all sizes and across a range of industries.

  1. Consult your internal and external communications team members at the onset of the process. Charge them with formulating a plan for rolling out the company’s position, as well as a strategy for engaging all audiences and outlining the rationale for making your position public. Just as your C-suite engages with legal counsel when the threat of litigation looms, the communications team should have a seat at the table from day one of this process.
  2. Take the temperature of internal stakeholders first. Sharing your plans with employees, investors, and closely-held contacts prior to going public will put you in position to collect valuable feedback, communicate your goals to those who matter most, and enlist a corps of brand ambassadors. If internal stakeholders are not engaged, then the plan will be at risk of falling flat or backfiring.
  3. Use focus groups to test messaging across consumer audiences prior to a public roll-out. It is essential to undergo this exercise with different target audience groups to understand how the message will resonate among different audiences. The acquired feedback can then be used to fine tune the messaging.
  4. Develop integrated communications that align with the brand’s mission and tailor the content according to each medium. Although the overall message should be consistent across each medium, the tone for a social media post will be slightly different than an e-blast due to the character limit and target audience.
  5. Ensure your content and public-facing messages are actionable and inspirational. By leveraging the strength of your brand, you can inspire others to find their own voice and make a positive impact in their communities. Moreover, words without corresponding actions may come across as insincere or opportunistic. By offering tangible action, businesses can back up their messages and demonstrate their dedication to making a real impact.