Taking a Stance: Navigating Corporate Social Activism with Employees

Published on 5th February 2020

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When does it make sense for companies to take a stance on social issues?

Ask any crisis communications professional and you’ll get mixed responses. Whatever stance your brand takes, it’s likely that a large portion of customers will be supportive – and an equally large portion will be unhappy.

While consumer response is always top-of-mind for business leaders, many overlook the impact that social activism can have on internal audiences. Research shows that employees want to work for an organization whose values align with their own – and, with employee engagement top-of-mind for leaders, it may be worthwhile for brands to get involved in societal issues.

Share Your Take: What is the role and impact of activism on businesses? Share your take in the 2020 Global Communications Survey from USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations.

Corporate Social Activism & Employees: Walmart’s Changes to Gun Sales

Padilla explores this topic in their recent blog post about social activism and employees by taking a look at the recent changes Walmart made in response to gun control. They explain:

Recently, Walmart has found itself in the crosshairs of the gun control debate. The company, whose retail stores historically have sold firearms and ammunition, attracts a broad spectrum of customers with a wide range of opinions about gun safety and First Amendment rights. As the nation’s largest private employer, Walmart also is home to more than a million associates whose opinions are likely as varied as its customers.

The issue came to a head for associates on August 3, when a gunman shot and killed 22 people and wounded 24 others at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The tragedy occurred just a few days after a Walmart associate killed two other associates in a store in Southaven, Mississippi.

Associates were understandably rattled. Some organized walkouts in protest of Walmart’s firearms sales and policies, saying they no longer wanted to be complicit in gun sales. Others remained silent.

On September 3, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon sent a memo to associates announcing changes to the sale of firearms and ammunition in retail stores, along with other steps that signal a much more public stance in the gun control debate.

6 Key Elements to Crafting an Appropriate Response

The response from McMillon offered a strong response to a challenging situation by:

  1. Clearly outlining the decision process.
  2. Acknowledging opposing viewpoints
  3. Sharing probable impact
  4. Empowering associates to help customer
  5. Putting a stake in the ground
  6. Sharing a personal connection

Read Padilla’s blog that elaborates on these key elements for corporate social activism.  Worldcom also had additional partner insights on brand management.


Padilla builds, grows, and protects brands and reputations worldwide by creating purposeful connections through advertising, digital and social marketing, investor relations, and brand strategy. Since 1961, the firm has served consumer, agricultural, environmental sciences, financial services, food and beverage, health, higher education, manufacturing, and technology industries. Padilla offers services in the areas of marketing communications, corporate communications, crisis communications, digital marketing, measurement and analytics, media relations and design.

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