Liz Fuller on Taking a Stance

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February 21, 2019
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In the recent article, “As Oregon execs dive into the political fray, we explore the risks of taking a stance,” Portland Business Journal interviewed public relations experts about the risks and opportunities inherent in taking a stance in our current political climate – including our own president, Liz Fuller.

Here’s what Liz recommends for executives interested in diving into the political fray.

Is civic engagement or activism by senior executives something that you’ve dealt with before? Yes, and frequently. One of the most interesting parts of the job involves helping an executive or organization put together a strategy that allows them to lead on issues. It involves a unique intersection between the issue, their company’s mission or goals, their constituencies and finding the right levers to pull at the right times.

Is it coming up more often in the current political climate? Yes. Increasingly politics blurs into all areas of our lives. It’s fascinating to watch organizations wrestle with how they want to navigate these issues. There’s no right answer, and it seems companies are taking a range of different approaches, depending on their particular situation.

What are the risks associated with speaking out? You might alienate part of your constituency. There’s an assumption that if an executive speaks, they speak for the entire company or brand. The hotter the issue, the harder it is to find any nuance.

It seems like it’s more risky for someone overseeing a consumer-facing brand. Perhaps, but also potentially more rewarding. Consumers expect their favorite brands to stand for something these days. Those brands are rewarded. However, authenticity matters and audiences can become very critical when they sense fake sentiment.

And the rewards? It can create champions for your organization, grow your audience, and potentially improve employee morale. It’s an opportunity to lead on something, and potentially make a difference. Take Tim Boyle’s work on homelessness in Portland, or his national anti-Trump positions, or Emma Mcilroy on women’s rights. We can debate the merits of their positions, but they are taking them, and we are all watching.

What’s your best advice for an executive who wants to step into a political discussion? Have a succinct and fact-based message. Offer solutions. Consider partnerships. When you roll it out, do so with a plan that extends beyond the first statement. Use humor. After Columbia Sportswear ran the ad, “Make America’s Parks Open Again” calling on the government to reopen, Tim Boyle made a Donner Party joke that had me laughing out loud. He said, “No party hates the outdoors except maybe the Donner Party.” It was memorable and on message.


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