CEO activism?

A study suggests CEOs have more to gain by taking controversial stands. Tell it to the CEOs—and their speechwriters.

Corporate speechwriters should consider, to the extent their bosses may, last Sunday’s New York Times piece on “The Power of CEO Activism.” The article cites a study suggesting that in some recent cases consumer gains outpaced consumer losses after CEOs stuck their necks out on controversial matters.

“In an era of political polarization, in which we are increasingly cloistered in neighborhoods, social networks and workplaces that serve as echo chambers for our ideological beliefs, corporate neutrality may be outdated,” the piece concludes, before asking, “As brands seek to ‘personalize’ their relationships with consumers, is adopting a political orientation part of closing the deal? Perhaps it is better in 2016 to be intensely loved by a few than inoffensive to many.”

The tricky answer depends, it seems to me, on who are the fawning few, and whether they’re influenced—this year, next year or next decade—by the malcontented many.

It’d be fun if more CEOs took their chances. It’d make speechwriting more interesting.

But making speechwriting more interesting isn’t high on CEOs’ agenda, and taking controversial stands isn’t likely to become trendy anytime soon. —DM

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