PR firm Weber Shandwick conducted an online survey of 1,021 US adults in the second wave of its CEO Activism research, CEO Activism in 2017: High Noon in the C-Suite. This found that almost half of millennials (47%) believed that CEOs have a responsibility to speak up about matters that are important to society.
Older generations were less exercised by this idea: only 28% of both Gen Xers and Boomers thought CEOs should proffer their opinions on the issues of the day.
Further, just over half of millennials (51%) indicated they would be more likely to buy from a company led by a CEO who spoke out on an issue they agreed with (up from 46% in 2016).
By implication, therefore, they may be less likely to buy from one whose views they disagree with, in which case one might conclude CEOs might as well stay schtum unless the issue directly affects their business.
But the report suggested this "voting by wallet" should not be ignored, and observed that Weber Shandwick's audits of company reactions to recent policy decisions revealed that many CEOs are not responding.
Around half of Americans (47%) thought the biggest risk of a CEO not speaking out on a hotly debated issue was some form of criticism, mostly from the media but also from customers.
The decision on whether to speak out or not is a sensitive topic for CEOs in the current US political climate, noted Andy Polansky, CEO of Weber Shandwick.
"When dozens of CEOs spoke up about the new administration's decisions regarding issues like climate change and travel to the US from select countries, for example, social media ignited, protests erupted and media attention exploded.
“Navigating how to communicate a company's point of view in this environment is becoming increasingly complex and important,” he added. “Future generations will only pay closer attention to how companies communicate around their values when it comes to deciding where to work or who to purchase from."
More than four in ten millennials (44%) said they would be more loyal to their organization if their own CEO took a public position on an issue – more than twice as many as said they would be less loyal.
Data sourced from Weber Shandwick; additional content by WARC staff