FutureX Plus | Inside FutureX / November 24, 2020

Business & Politics: does it work?

Last week at FutureX, we took a rare (public) foray into politics in our November newsletter, where we hailed the end of Donald Trump’s reign as ‘good news’. Perhaps not the most controversial statement of all time (depending on your politics) but one that definitely made us pause to think.

Will this alienate some readers? What will our sponsors think? Is the FutureX newsletter really the right place to be talking politics – aren’t we meant to be talking about entrepreneurship or something?

Like many other purpose-driven businesses, we’re pretty vocal about the social and environmental issues that relate to our mission. However, it’s way rarer to see companies (purpose-driven or otherwise) expressing opinions on politics.

Why is this? 

For decades, the accepted wisdom was that it didn’t make business sense to talk about politics:

“Better to stay away from advocacy, focus on sales, steer clear of sentiments, and avoid offending one side or the other.”

While the rise of Corporate Social Responsibility in the 1980s heralded a change of sorts, it was largely geared towards the kind of social and environmental issues that are unlikely to offend either side of the political spectrum.

In recent years, there’s been a definite shift towards companies risking controversy through highlighting their political standpoint, with prominent examples like Patagonia (“Vote the assholes out” tags), BrewDog (“Barnard Castle Eye Test” beer), and Lush (countless occasions, varying degrees of success) to name but a few.

It’s not just companies that you would consider purpose-driven, or liberal-leaning (although they are more prevalent). Nike made waves with their support for American footballer / civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick, and conservative U.S brand Hobby Lobby won a supreme court ruling that said they didn’t have to cover insurance for contraception

These examples are still the exception rather than the rule though, with engagement in politics yet to be widely adopted on anything like the scale that CSR was before. But perhaps we’re reaching the tipping point. 

So should we be talking about politics?

There’s definitely not a one size fits all approach here, but it does seem that the old adage about keeping politics out of business is starting to look a little outdated. According to the Harvard Business Review, the current political climate dictates that “the days when companies could uniformly stay on the sidelines are over”. This might be overstating it a little, but a degree of activism is increasingly expected by – and is desirable to – modern-day consumers, and the risk of alienating some is often mitigated by attracting and building greater loyalty among others. 

We’ll likely continue to see more businesses (especially those that are purpose-driven) speaking up about political issues and policies that relate to their mission and values, without showing outright support or opposition for one political party or another. 

That’s our intention anyway and feels like a pretty natural evolution from what we’re already doing. Still feels a bit scary though!

Paul McMillan FutureX

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Paul McMillan

Head of Operations