How Do Corporations Go “Woke?”

 

Everyone knows by now that certain Georgia-based companies – Coca-Cola, Delta, Home Depot, and probably others – experienced a public relations train wreck this week after falling under attack from both sides of the Georgia election law reform debate. Both sides? How did that happen? It is the worst-case scenario for any public relations professional. But don’t blame them. At least entirely.

In these instances, many other people in companies like these – all publicly-owned consumer product goods and services corporations – get involved. People like the general counsel, the company’s top lawyer. The head of “government affairs” (disclosure: I used to be one). The “Chief People Person,” as it is called at many companies these days (the head of “human relations,” or HR for short).

And don’t forget the “Corporate Social Accountability” person, who deals with “socially responsible investor groups” who invest in companies in hopes of influencing them to be, well, “socially responsible,” mostly around climate change, diversity and inclusion, and other politically-correct causes. And, ultimately, the Chief Executive Officer.

I have no original reporting here, just a likely scenario based on my own twenty years of experience in the consumer products world. Here is how this likely, and generally, played out. And there are a pair of lessons to learn.

The PR people started getting inundated with calls from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and no shortage of national media, including all the networks. The Government Affairs leader, reading his emails and seeing media coverage, begins to fret over his friendly state legislators, political operatives, and staff for the governor and other officials in his home state government. And don’t forget all the consultants they hire to give them sage advice in circumstances like this. Think of people like Lincoln Project founders Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s campaign manager during his failed 2008 presidential campaign, or Rick Wilson. Advising companies is what they generally do when they’re not grifting. You can look them up. Companies hire them for their “strategic advice.” They are others from all political persuasions.

Meanwhile, woke, progressive organizations are ginning up their extensive grassroots operations to barrage executives and directors at these companies to take action. Tens of thousands of emails and calls, in some instances. Their goal is simple – to pressure companies to oppose or change government action that they oppose. In this case, they hate SB 202, the new Georgia election reform law signed by Gov. Brian Kemp this week that the media have badly mischaracterized. The new law’s simple reforms make it harder to cheat on absentee ballots and a few other reforms most people would find uncontroversial.

But it is the verification procedures on absentee ballots that have the progressives all upset. Signature verification for absentee ballots was relaxed if not eliminated in many states in 2020. That’s how, in part, Georgia Democrats were successful in 2020 in helping elect Joe Biden and two new Democratic US Senators in Georgia. Adding new verification procedures – providing a driver’s license or free State ID number – to absentee mail-in ballots adds a step to voting that these progressive groups don’t like. They don’t want their massive “vote by mail” machines and efforts challenged or “burdened” in any way. They call it “voter suppression.” And they appear to have sold that tale to the corporate overlords.

The first people to pay attention to new laws are the government affairs people. When the pressure starts, they quickly study this stuff and offer up draft statements to the PR people designed to appease “both sides” without offending the government affairs’ main constituents, state officials (especially the governor). After all, these corporations all get tax, economic, and other benefits from the state that allows them to operate more profitably.

Meanwhile, the HR lead – the Chief People Person – is being hit up from company “affinity groups” (women, African Americans, Hispanics, LGBTQ, etc.), many with connections to progressive organizations outside the company to get the company engaged.

And few, if anyone, has actually read the bill outside of the government affairs lead.

While this is going on, the CEO is receiving a few “heads up” from his direct reports, including the general counsel and, of course, the “Chief People Person.” He calls for a quick meeting, including the “Corporate Social Responsibility Officer” (“investor groups are demanding we intervene!”), for an assessment. And then the CEO starts getting calls, pressure, and possibly veiled threats from people like Stacey Abrams, the putative governor (defeated in 2018), and other progressive “stakeholders” he may know. To her credit, she’s probably worked to develop a relationship with the company. And the calls and emails keep coming.

They finally agree on a statement that they think plays to most people. The Government Affairs lead watches and listens as the CEO buys what Stacey Abrams and the thousands of emails are selling. And he agrees to oppose the bill, calling it “voter suppression.” For Delta, it was worse. They originally offered faint praise for the law, then did a complete 180-degree turn. That really doesn’t look good.

Congratulations, Coke and Delta, you’ve just made yourself the story on a controversial issue – anathema to most consumer goods companies. Politically smarter CEOs and companies kept their powder dry.

What are the lessons learned here? There are two—one for corporations and another for the community missing entirely from this story: conservatives.

For corporations, you made this bed. You yielded to affinity groups in your own company, leftist investor groups, or bad political advice to weigh in on an issue that you had no expertise to offer. Nobody looks to a beverage company, airline, or hardware retailer for guidance on election reforms. Credit LGBTQ organizations that wrote the playbook on how to influence corporate behavior. This playbook is now being used for other causes. I see no evidence that it is helping bottom lines or enhances “shareholder value.” Just because public opinion turned on an issue like gay marriage doesn’t mean it will do likewise on something like election reform. They should have seen it coming. And it won’t stop here.

For conservatives, the lesson is simpler. Where are you?

Progressive groups can gin up tens of thousands of emails that appear organic. Left-leaning investor groups are in constant contact with investor relations directors at public corporations and corporate social responsibility leaders to push companies to adopt programs and policies.

Meanwhile, there are few, if any, conservative organizations that engage corporations on policy and politics.

To their credit, progressives seem to have much more money now than conservative organizations. There is no shortage of billionaire funders of leftist causes. Conservative billionaires are engaged, too, but not to this degree and certainly do not influence corporations on public policy issues. Americans for Prosperity, a Koch Brothers creation, is very non-partisan and grassroots-oriented but isn’t known for reaching out to companies the way progressives do. Not even close. And now, they’re doing joint projects with leftist funders.

It’s really not that public corporations like Coke and Delta have “gone left.” They respond to smart, comprehensive, and never-ending pressure campaigns from well-organized activists. Leftists have figured this out. Conservatives seem content to complain on Fox News and social media. They have no one to blame but themselves.

Oh, sure, conservatives will reward a company like Goya Foods in the marketplace when they speak up in a way they like, and that’s valuable. But “Boycotts” and “Buy-cotts” are not enough and rarely effective in the long term.

Yes, there are conservative investor groups, but I’ve never heard from one in the context of public policy. Some don’t think this investing delivers much of a return. That strikes me as short-sighted. 2nd Vote grades companies based on their contributions and political activity. Are there others? I know of no right-leaning organizations geared to mobilize the kinds of calls, emails, and related contacts at public companies. Perhaps they exist.

There are clearly voids waiting to be filled. Opportunities are being missed, and it is long past time to level the playing field.

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  1. Retail Lawyer Member
    Retail Lawyer
    @RetailLawyer

    Why can’t corporations just have and articulate a policy of not weighing in on political matters that don’t directly affect them?  

    • #1
  2. Kelly D Johnston Coolidge
    Kelly D Johnston
    @SoupGuy

    Retail Lawyer (View Comment):

    Why can’t corporations just have and articulate a policy of not weighing in on political matters that don’t directly affect them?

    Excellent question. Many do, and I helped craft such a policy at my former employer a number of years ago. Other companies, obviously, were not so wise.

     

    • #2
  3. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Retail Lawyer (View Comment):

    Why can’t corporations just have and articulate a policy of not weighing in on political matters that don’t directly affect them?

    Because the left will say, “You silence is support for XYZ.”

    They try to force companies to take positions.  Sadly, many of the higher-ups in those companies either knuckle under, or are leftists themselves and use the excuse to make the corporation take a woke position . . .

    • #3
  4. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    Back in the nineties and the oughts (I love calling them that), I used to write to corporations regularly decrying their political correctness pandering and their degenerating standards of decency.  I always got the pro-forma polite response that didn’t address my question or basically said, “we don’t care what you say, we’re going to do this anyway”.  

    So I stopped writing.  But perhaps I shouldn’t have.  I’ll give up on degeneracy as that is a losing battle and just focus on how angry I am over whatever position they have taken that offends. 

    • #4
  5. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    Back in the nineties and the oughts (I love calling them that), I used to write to corporations regularly decrying their political correctness pandering and their degenerating standards of decency. I always got the pro-forma polite response that didn’t address my question or basically said, “we don’t care what you say, we’re going to do this anyway”.

    So I stopped writing. But perhaps I shouldn’t have. I’ll give up on degeneracy as that is a losing battle and just focus on how angry I am over whatever position they have taken that offends.

    Well, that didn’t take long.  I just wrote a scathing letter to Major League Baseball for moving the All Star Game out of Atlanta.  I hope you all do too:  https://nypost.com/2021/04/02/mlb-all-star-game-out-of-atlanta-over-georgias-voting-law/. 

    • #5
  6. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Its pretty simple.  Marketing departments are far left.

    Business publications went hard left this past year.

    So the entire information system feeding a business is telling them that their customers are far left, and expect them to engage in this kind of weird creepy fascism.

    • #6
  7. Freeven Member
    Freeven
    @Freeven

    There used to be a saying: “As goes General Motors, so goes the country.” 

    One of the reasons we don’t hear those types of sentiments anymore is that these mega-corporations no longer see themselves as “American companies.” They are global and have no particular allegiance to America or its people or their values. Some are run by those who actively seek to harm America; others simply adopt whatever political face improves their bottom line — again, not necessarily in America, but around the world. We tend to think in terms of American politics. Increasingly, they do not.

    • #7
  8. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    I continue to be surprised that these large corporations cave to pressure from a tiny number of vocal activists yet ignore millions of customers. One of the recent examples being Harry’s Razors canceling a sponsorship of Michael Knowles show because of a single [false] complaint from a Twitter user with fewer than 5 followers. There are plenty of other stories of companies caving to demands of other social media accounts of no great significance. 

    • #8
  9. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    I wonder what would happen if we could sell this as preventing rich, white, evil Republicans who have homes in multiple states from voting twice? 

    • #9
  10. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    It’s even worse when internal company sponsored “affinity groups” are involved.

    • #10
  11. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Kelly D Johnston: Everyone knows by now

    A rather strange assumption.  

    • #11
  12. DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) Coolidge
    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!)
    @DonG

    Kelly D Johnston: And don’t forget the “Corporate Social Accountability” person, who deals with “socially responsible investor groups” who invest in companies in hopes of influencing them to be, well, “socially responsible,” mostly around climate change, diversity and inclusion, and other politically-correct causes. And, ultimately, the Chief Executive Officer.

    Those people should be fired.  The job of a corporation is to make profits and grow market share.  The stock price will follow.

     

    Another factor is the CCP bots and Wu Mao army.  They use social media to drive policies that helpful to the CCP.  We should assume they get involved in every issue. 

    • #12
  13. DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone Member
    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Kelly D Johnston: There are clearly voids waiting to be filled. Opportunities are being missed, and it is long past time to level the playing field.

    Conservatives need to stop pretending that think tanks and podcasts will shift the culture rightward.

    Take a lesson from the left. Organize for power and influence.

    • #13
  14. DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone Member
    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Retail Lawyer (View Comment):

    Why can’t corporations just have and articulate a policy of not weighing in on political matters that don’t directly affect them?

    Leftists organizations pressure them into making political statements and punish them if they don’t.

    • #14
  15. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    My co host Don in our last episode of Land of Confusion mentioned that he wanted the GOP to organize along these lines.  I pointed out that political parties are terrible at doing these things.

    I think a lot of right wingers were burned by the grifters during the Tea Party era, that promised this kind of organization and then stole all their money.

    Churches are the groups who traditionally did this, look at the Bush years for tons of examples.  But yeah, grass roots do need to organize more its true.

    • #15
  16. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Sectarian civil war is coming. That is what all these people seem to want.

    • #16
  17. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):
    I think a lot of right wingers were burned by the grifters during the Tea Party era, that promised this kind of organization and then stole all their money.

    I hadn’t noticed that.  Losing money from grifters was a minor concern compared to the GOP trying to destroy the movement.

    • #17
  18. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) (View Comment):
    Those people should be fired.  The job of a corporation is to make profits and grow market share.  The stock price will follow.

    That is old-think, comrade.  Corporate responsibility goes first to social progress.

    • #18
  19. DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone Member
    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone
    @DrewInWisconsin

    This Twitter Thread:

    • #19
  20. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Doesn’t anyone remember Red Bull? Certain members of its staff tried to pull the company into the BLM hoo-hah of the summer past. They assumed that from their positions of power within the company, they could get the company to play their game by their rules.

    It turned out it wasn’t a game and the board wasn’t playing.

    “We reject racism in every form, we always have, and we always will,” said Red Bull’s board. “Red Bull has always put people and their dreams and accomplishments at its core and values the contribution of each and every person – no matter who they are. We want everyone who feels this way to be welcome in Red Bull.”

    Then they bounced the North American chief executive, the North American president, and the head of Red Bull’s “global culture marketing.” Then they dispensed with global culture marketing.

    They make, distribute, and sell an energy drink. That’s the gig. You’ve got a further agenda? That’s nice. Keep it out of the office. If you can’t keep it out of the office, they will keep it out for you.

    • #20
  21. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Percival (View Comment):

    Doesn’t anyone remember Red Bull? Certain members of its staff tried to pull the company into the BLM hoo-hah of the summer past. They assumed that from their positions of power within the company, they could get the company to play their game by their rules.

    It turned out it wasn’t a game and the board wasn’t playing.

    “We reject racism in every form, we always have, and we always will,” said Red Bull’s board. “Red Bull has always put people and their dreams and accomplishments at its core and values the contribution of each and every person – no matter who they are. We want everyone who feels this way to be welcome in Red Bull.”

    Then they bounced the North American chief executive, the North American president, and the head of Red Bull’s “global culture marketing.” Then they dispensed with global culture marketing.

    They make, distribute, and sell an energy drink. That’s the gig. You’ve got a further agenda? That’s nice. Keep it out of the office. If you can’t keep it out of the office, they will keep it out for you.

    I would like to see a lot more of that. 

    These are money losing moves. 

    • #21
  22. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I wonder what rum and Red Bull tastes like?

    • #22
  23. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Percival (View Comment):

    Doesn’t anyone remember Red Bull? Certain members of its staff tried to pull the company into the BLM hoo-hah of the summer past. They assumed that from their positions of power within the company, they could get the company to play their game by their rules.

    It turned out it wasn’t a game and the board wasn’t playing.

    “We reject racism in every form, we always have, and we always will,” said Red Bull’s board. “Red Bull has always put people and their dreams and accomplishments at its core and values the contribution of each and every person – no matter who they are. We want everyone who feels this way to be welcome in Red Bull.”

    Then they bounced the North American chief executive, the North American president, and the head of Red Bull’s “global culture marketing.” Then they dispensed with global culture marketing.

    They make, distribute, and sell an energy drink. That’s the gig. You’ve got a further agenda? That’s nice. Keep it out of the office. If you can’t keep it out of the office, they will keep it out for you.

    How did I miss that story?   Good for them. 

    • #23
  24. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Percival (View Comment):

    I wonder what rum and Red Bull tastes like?

    Wide-awake piracy. 

    • #24
  25. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Skyler (View Comment):
    How did I miss that story?  

    For some reason, the Lickspittle Media didn’t talk about it much.

    • #25
  26. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    TBA (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    I wonder what rum and Red Bull tastes like?

    Wide-awake piracy.

    Toro rojo, bebé!

    • #26
  27. DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone Member
    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Percival (View Comment):

    Doesn’t anyone remember Red Bull? Certain members of its staff tried to pull the company into the BLM hoo-hah of the summer past. They assumed that from their positions of power within the company, they could get the company to play their game by their rules.

    It turned out it wasn’t a game and the board wasn’t playing.

    “We reject racism in every form, we always have, and we always will,” said Red Bull’s board. “Red Bull has always put people and their dreams and accomplishments at its core and values the contribution of each and every person – no matter who they are. We want everyone who feels this way to be welcome in Red Bull.”

    Then they bounced the North American chief executive, the North American president, and the head of Red Bull’s “global culture marketing.” Then they dispensed with global culture marketing.

    They make, distribute, and sell an energy drink. That’s the gig. You’ve got a further agenda? That’s nice. Keep it out of the office. If you can’t keep it out of the office, they will keep it out for you.

    I might need to switch to Red Bull.

    • #27
  28. DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone Member
    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone
    @DrewInWisconsin

    PoliMath (View Comment):

    Conservative pundits who can’t stomach using every tool at our disposal to hamstring those corporations are lost in the past

    Take your retirement, write some lovely history about Harry Truman or whatever and get out of the way

    ^ Note to the French Davidians.

    • #28
  29. Darin Johnson Member
    Darin Johnson
    @user_648569

    Before he settled into being a nutty crank (or is he a cranky nut?), Nassim Taleb used to make an interesting point now and again.  One of those was his observation about how an intolerant minority can get its way in the face of a mostly indifferent majority.  (E.g., all orange juice is kosher.) 

    At least I think non-crazy people are still the majority.  What with Georgia’s unacceptable election situation wherein people routinely drop dead of dehydration standing in line, it’s hard to tell for sure.

    • #29
  30. Bishop Wash Member
    Bishop Wash
    @BishopWash

    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone (View Comment):

    This Twitter Thread:

    If they could, Democrats will use this power to literally bankrupt conservatives.

    They would happily throw entire state economies into literal poverty simply to show their hatred and spite against their enemies.

    You are their enemy.

    Not Russia, not China. You.

    I think the second line should say “They were happy to throw…”. It seemed that some Democrat governors were happy to destroy their states’ economies last year with oppressive lockdowns to sour Trump’s re-election chances. They knew that the media arm of the Democrat Party would run top cover for them and blame a failing economy on Trump.

    • #30