Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Finding an Authentic Way to Get Involved in Social Issues

Even with the best of intentions, your company's cause sponsorship can lead to backlash and social media shaming—if consumers suspect you're being anything less than authentic.

In an era when socially conscious consumption is on the rise, companies face a Catch-22. Taking a stand is imperative—according to two-thirds of consumers—but it’s painfully easy to miss the mark when you do.

Dior learned this lesson the hard way with its recent “Sauvage” campaign. The brand intended to raise awareness around Native Americans with the ad featuring Johnny Depp and a Native American dancer. Unfortunately, the ad was live on social for only a few hours before the backlash began. The company had no choice but to pull it.

Dior was slammed for “Sauvage” fragrance ad featuring Johnny Depp in Native American regalia.

What Dior and many other companies are learning is that consumers want socially conscious brands—but they want that consciousness delivered in an authentic way. Dior may have had good intentions, but the only thing consumers saw in the ad was commercialism, not genuine brand purpose.

Engaging Authentically in Social Issues

Companies shouldn’t shy away from cause sponsorship. This year, organizational sponsorship of causes was expected to increase by 4.6% compared to 2018, and that’s a good thing. But only brand purpose grounded in a company’s true mission and model will be embraced. To avoid turning your brand activism into a PR nightmare, CEOs should follow these four rules.

1. Be true to yourself. Consumers don’t want companies to reach for just any cause. They want to see a connection between cause sponsorshipand who you are. Stand for things that are true to your company. What are your enduring values? If you’ve lost sight of them, now is a good time to rediscover your brand identity. Knowing that — and connecting your social causes to it — will lend credibility and boost confidence that you can actually make a difference.

2. Know your context. PR disasters often start with tone-deaf activism. Pay attention to what’s going on culturally and the issues your audience, in particular, cares about. This will help you discover the right cause. Listen carefully to what your customers are talking about, and think carefully before you insert your company. Consult an expert — perhaps a cultural anthropologist — who can alert you of insensitivities that could derail your efforts.

3. Form partnerships with purpose. The socially conscious brandsthat make a lasting impact create movements and enlist others to join in. If you operate in the hospitality industry, for example, you could partner with a food bank to lessen food waste while also supporting those in need in your community. Don’t try to solve big problems on your own. Engage your customers, vendors and other stakeholders in creating solutions. Figure out how you can scale up your efforts to gain real momentum.

4. Take the long view.It’s easier to write a one-time check than it is to commit to a sustained effort. But powerful change takes time and persistence. For instance, the public-private partnership between the Enterprise Holdings Foundation and the Arbor Day Foundation involves a 50-year reforestation effort. Together, the organizations pledged to plant 1 million trees each year, and the results will benefit the planet for generations.

Don’t jump on the latest giving fad. Commit your organization to a long-term journey that draws on your expertise, passions and strengths. Invite your customers along for the ride.

Now more than ever, it’s critical to authentically engage with social causes. Don’t let fear of backlash keep you on the sidelines. There is an issue that fits your brand just right, and it’s waiting for you and your customers to make it into a movement.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.