Brands face unprecedented risks and will need the right processes and tools to negotiate these challenges. Will Gilroy, WFA Director of Policy and Communications, explains.
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The business of doing business has become a lot more complex than even a decade ago. Today’s geo-politics, marked by polarisation and its accompanying 24/7 newsreel and social commentary, makes for an unpredictable and risky backdrop for any brands operating regionally or globally.
The Financial Times recently made a compelling case for how every large company now needs a Chief Political Officer to help navigate increasing economic and political uncertainties.
Add to that the CMO’s brief of growing the business – and therefore having to try to appeal to new, often younger audiences – against the backdrop of culture wars and you can easily see how precarious the situation has become for brand owners.
In the wake of the conservative backlash against Bud Light, Nike, Target and others, we have witnessed an unprecedented desire on the part of WFA members to share insights and concerns in private on how to manage risk and reputation across a number of our working groups.
One global head of corporate affairs recently told me how they had spent two hours holed up with their CEO, CMO and chief legal officer war gaming on how to avoid becoming the next victim, given their long-standing company commitments to LGBTQ+ issues.
I understand that many companies are having similar discussions. After all, it only takes one marketer sending a personalised can of beer to a transgender TikToker for all hell to break loose.
Three things struck me from this conversation. Firstly, the stakeholders who were in the room. Secondly, the importance of managing the narrative with your own internal people as well as your consumers. And thirdly, how to ensure global consistency.
Alignment must be total
This new level of risk requires an unprecedented alignment across functions. The ‘Big brands fund terror through online adverts’ brand safety stories of 2017 sparked the first-time marketing issues had become a CEO priority in many companies.
#metoo and George Floyd compounded the need for the C-Suite to work alongside marketing, policy and legal in order to navigate these moments of significant societal upheaval. A riskier operating environment will likely see this quartet working more closely together more often.
Secondly, it is going to be increasingly important to have a clear position and control the narrative with your internal stakeholders as well as your consumers. Being caught in the crossfire of culture wars is particularly sensitive given that your colleagues will not have homogenous politics. Internal staff will likely be split on such issues as will your supply and distribution partners.
Having a clear north star and a compelling narrative skilfully communicated internally will be critical. There may be a case for adding the Chief People Officer to the war gaming group.
Finally, inconsistency is a killer for global brands. More than ever before, CMOs will need to put in place clear marketing frameworks with checks and balances. Last year, CMOs told us this was a top priority for their organisations.
This response led to survey our members to see what companies already had in place. The results showed us that 88% of our members had frameworks in place but their coverage was often patchy. They also highlighted the need for marketers to involve policy and legal in their development, implementation and compliance.
RMF will become the watchword for safety
WFA is in the process of putting together a model Responsible Marketing Framework which identifies what good might look like in areas as diverse as environmental sustainability, DEI, brand safety, responsible media, data ethics, and marketing and children. We hope WFA members will be able to adapt this to their own organisations in order to have as comprehensive and cutting-edge thinking as possible.
The original premise for doing this was the opportunity for marketers to take a leadership role in linking their efforts back to company ESG goals. The recent conservative backlash highlights the value of such frameworks in terms of managing risk and reputation.
In today’s unprecedently unpredictable and ultra-mediatised world, such frameworks will be indispensable for all major brand owners.
If you want to find out how you can be part of the brands developing best practice in this space, please contact Will Gilroy at firstname.lastname@example.org