The noise and smoke created by the United crisis management fiasco, and the subsequent issues faced by other airlines, obscured a more interesting and potentially even more damaging source of reputation risk that became visible in the same period.
On April 3, a week before Dr. Dao became the most famous physician in the country, two separate studies were published, each with a perspective on an alarming and difficult set of issues increasingly faced by organizations.
What the two studies told us is that managing risk from cultural, social and political issues is becoming a huge challenge for organizations.
McCann highlights how the rising political divisiveness in America and the sharp divide between liberals and conservatives deeply affects perceptions about values, institutions, brands, foreign countries, American symbols or news sources.
McCann’s press release said, “The bitter divisiveness and partisan disputes about truthfulness that have come to characterize today’s political environment are also affecting other aspects of American life, including attitudes about brands and core values”.
It is always a careful walk when brands and companies make judgment calls and get involved in issues around race, gender, nationality and politics—but never greater than right now in divided America.
Mismanagement (malpractice, misconduct, negligence, unethical practices, and so on) was top of the charts, accounting for nearly 30 percent of crises.
But look what was number two on the list with a bullet.
Discrimination stories skyrocketed to around 20 percent, with ICM’s report citing news articles involving Papa John’s pizza, the restaurant chain Noodles & Co and the North Carolina bathroom bill.
By comparison natural disasters accounted for just one percent of crisis stories in 2016—and stories about data breaches just five percent.
One of those issues around discrimination tracked by ICM, the North Carolina bathroom bill, was the reason the retailer Target published a blog post in April 2016 welcoming transgender employees and customers to use the restrooms and fitting rooms corresponding to their gender identities.
The blog was only confirming what was a long-held practice at the stores. It should not have been that controversial—but it rapidly became so.
“Other retailers have similar policies. But for Target, the posting of what was its long-held practice quickly became an expensive and distracting lesson about the perils of combining the web’s megaphone with touchy social issues.”
Target faced an avalanche of criticism from groups opposed to the policy.
Equally, it won support from advocacy groups on the other side of the issue.
Earlier this year, the marketing behemoth Unilever unveiled an international study that showed a third of consumers buy brands that can demonstrate a social and environmental impact.
In 2016, the BBMG agency identified a sector of the buying public it calls ‘Aspirationals’, a consumer demographic it claimed represent 40 percent of the global public. Aspirationals are defined by their love of shopping, desire for responsible consumption, and their trust in brands to act in the best interest of society.