Companies including Dick's Sporting Goods, Nike, and Lyft have elicited kudos and controversy for their political stances. But partisan antipathies are very high these days. (Perhaps you've noticed.) Should you speak out? We had two smart founders stake out their positions, one whose company is vocal on women's health issues, and a marketing expert who urges a more cautious approach.
Won't politics alienate a big chunk of your customers?
Jeff Knauss: When you take a stand, you can polarize the people who are actually keeping you in business. It could even be fatal for companies that have only a few clients or customers.
Meika Hollender: From day one, we've said we give 10 percent of our profits to women's reproductive health organizations--primarily Planned Parenthood. Some people do abandon us, but we believe that issue builds a really strong consumer base.
Should a company take a political stand when all employees may not agree?
Knauss: We have 36 people at our agency. I don't feel it's right for the founder to say that everyone in the company believes x, y, z. I have a very diverse staff, and there are people who have opinions different from mine.
Hollender: We developed Sustain around positions on women's reproductive health and their access to it. In terms of hiring, we're very straightforward: If you're not open to conversations about sex and sexual health, this is not going to be the right fit.
Isn't there a risk of coming off as either inauthentic or opportunistic?
Knauss: It's dangerous if the brand has not done a deep dive into its values. My theory is to protect the business no matter what so you can maintain the largest impact possible--by, say, growing and retaining jobs, and community service through nonprofits.
Hollender: There are some businesses that identify with certain organizations because they think it will get them an extra 10 percent in sales. But I think consumers can tell when brands are doing that.
Are there costs to staying silent?
Knauss: There's a lot of pressure to get involved with local government--mayoral races, state senate campaigns--and half your clients want you to take one position and half want you to take another. Most causes that you feel pressure about are fleeting. There are more repercussions for taking a stand that you don't fully believe in than if you stay out of the fray.
Hollender: Our whole team was shaken up about Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination. If we'd said nothing, our customers would have noticed. Our position was, as a brand we support women and survivors. So we made a significant donation to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
A close call. Hollender's stance clearly works for Sustain. But social media management firm Sprout Social--which recommends her approach--finds 33 percent of customers who disagree with a company's politics would boycott, and over half would purchase less.