The Perilous "Blind Side" to Socio-Economic Activism

The internet has accentuated the impact, public sharing and immediacy of an ominous set of risks to business in the past few years, aggressively fueled by activists who can unexpectedly damage every type of brand or reputation.  

There is no longer a reasonable “comfort level” for business leaders which prevailed for decades before social media came on to the scene.  Threats to the integrity of a company or personal brand occur in every type of industry, every company size, and are manifested in so many different kinds of risk events.  For example:

  • Employment Practices – diversity/inclusiveness, health and safely, compensations, etc.

  • Social Issues – civil rights (“Black Lives Matter”), LGBTQ and women’s rights, gun ownership, etc.

  • Corporate Conduct – business ethics, corporate governance, data privacy, ethical sourcing, etc.

  • Civic Responsibility – child welfare, community outreach, education, political accountability, etc.

  • Charity/Philanthropy – arts & culture support, disaster and humanitarian relief, donations, etc.

  • Environmental Stewardship – energy efficiency, carbon footprint, recycling, water use, etc.

Most business leaders hear about a variety of these brand risk events in the news, yet most also feel detached – that such events are unlikely to occur in their own backyard.   In particular, they aren’t fully aware of the extent, frequency and nature of all the types of brand risk events surrounding their business, much less if/how their business is vulnerable to such activist attacks and how quickly social media can ubiquitously motivate an anti-company movement. 

In short, there is a serious risk that most of these leaders will be blindsided when an event does happen.

So what should companies do to reduce these risks to their brand or reputation?  At a minimum, business leaders should become more familiar with the full breadth of this new world of different brand risks.  Activism has many causes and avenues to incite problems, most often using the internet to quickly target a brand.  Disinformation prevails in many cases, and all too often, leaders are caught by surprise with no good response plan in their hip pocket.  Basic preparation is essential and includes two critical preliminary steps: 

1.      Learn and Focus On the Most Likely Risks – randomly hearing about an activism risk event is not enough.  While these activism trends are relatively new, there now is empirical data being collected that will enlighten management on the vast array of risk events, how each threat evolved, and the outcomes for each event.   Business leaders can study these events by industry, type and sector to better gauge the risks they will most likely experience.

2.      Diagnosing Vulnerabilities – such an assessment of hard data will provide a framework for a more focused and meaningful internal analysis of pertinent vulnerabilities within a company.  Ideally these vulnerabilities should be quantified, prioritized and compared to peer group companies to assess relative threat exposures.

Marketing Scenario Analytica is at the forefront of helping companies minimize these new brand risks. MSA has developed a detailed catalog of activism risk events impacting brands that clarifies the incidence and nature of these incidents.   We’ve also developed a proprietary approach for assessing the vulnerabilities of a company, which are documented and evaluated in a scorecard approach.

Are you concerned about getting blind-sided by an activist risk event?  MSA can help.