Successful CEO Engagement on Polarizing Issues: Clearly Define Your Corporate Narrative


Charles Alfaro, Principal, Alfaro Consulting

Today’s headlines, with polarizing perspectives on a wide range of political, social and economic issues, has created a challenging – yet critically important – time for CEOs and other C-Suite executives.  Deciding when and how to enter an emotionally charged conversation, regardless of your position, can be complicated. Navigating this process can be made easier by following two key principles: defining your corporate narrative, and staying true to your values.

Gone are the days when CEOs primary responsibilities were to increase sales and drive stock prices, or when corporate social responsibility/corporate philanthropy meant creating a foundation or sponsoring a little league team. More and more, reputation is a driving factory in a company’s success. At the same time, ‘taking a stand’ can be complex, with significant ramifications. Business leaders are speaking to a myriad of audiences – employees, customers, investors, reporters, politicians – many times with diverse, and polarizing perspectives.

In a recent article in the New York Times, The Moral Voice of Corporate America, David Gelles wrote, “Chief executives face a constellation of pressures, and speaking up can create considerable uncertainty. Customers can be offended, colleagues can feel isolated and relations with lawmakers can suffer. Words and actions can backfire, resulting in public relations disasters. All this as a chief executive is expected to grow sales.”

So, as communicators are scrambling to advise their CEOs on when to engage, and developing content for how best to engage, remember: your response and position should always be true to your company position and values. In other words, before jumping into any issue or conversation, you must first take the time to properly define and understand your corporate narrative:

  • Goals: define your vision and mission, including priorities and areas of strength.
  • Values: identify your culture and values; what’s important to your company.
  • Audience: know your employees and customers, and understand your reputation with these and other key constituents.
  • Conviction: develop messages that are authentic and genuine, and own your story.

Rule of thumb to always keep in mind: jumping into a polarizing issue, while doing the right thing, will often times be a no-win situation for senior leaders. Regardless of where you are on the pendulum, from conservative right to liberal left, your position will be applauded by some and jeered by others…in other words, you can’t make everyone happy.

This is why your corporate narrative is so critically important…it is your foundation, identity and basis for all other communications. If your narrative is authentic and genuine, it will guide your decision as to when and how to engage. And, if your story and your messages are credible, repeatable and consistent, and truly represents your company and what it stands for, your corporate narrative will give you comfort in the face of criticism…your corporate narrative will enable you to be strong and, true to your convictions.


 About the Author:  Charles Alfaro has extensive experience developing strategic, creative and authentic communications, for external and internal audiences. He’s designed programs that have successfully increased the visibility and reputation of companies, brands and executives, at such leading companies as Boehringer Ingelheim, Cadbury and Roche. 


1 Comment

  1. Ronald N. Levy on at 10:26 AM

    This piece by Alfaro is a good example of what makes CommPRO valuable to readers: Commpro not only gives the reader some good ideas but also steers the reader away from ideas that could bring grief.

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