By Bill Coletti, CEO Kith Consulting
1. NGOs always win, but that doesn’t mean your organization has to lose
2. Engagement with NGOs is no longer optional; it’s required
3.Planning now avoids pain later
Watch Kith’s founder and CEO discuss in depth his premise that NGOs always win. You can find additional conversations led by Bill and the rest of the Kith team here.
Whether they use neon spray-painted signs and megaphones or sensational blog posts and social media to fuel a firestorm, activists are increasingly taking aim at businesses. What if your company is caught in the crosshairs?
The risk is real, especially in a world where non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are driving huge changes in society. NGOs have become such a powerful force in recent years that the public often trusts them more than business or government.
NGOs have moved far beyond just “naming and shaming” companies’ behavior. When NGOs grab onto an issue, they’re relentless—and they always win. Once they target an issue, they will successfully force their opponent to make changes they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Whether you’re a multinational corporation or small family business, engagement with NGOs is no longer optional. NGOs win even against the most formidable opponents, like multibillion dollar organizations with tremendous resources. For example, in 2015 Greenpeace organized highly visible demonstrations to protest drilling in the Arctic. Shell had billions of dollars and an army of lawyers, yet pressure from Greenpeace and other NGOs caused the oil company to abandon its Arctic oil drilling operations. In a public statement, Shell said it abandoned its Arctic drilling operations due to a “challenging regulatory environment,” but the Financial Times reported that Shell privately admitted it didn’t expect so much public opposition.
Failure to engage strategically with NGOs can lead to a loss of reputation, financial turmoil or a reshuffling on the management deck. In every case, it’s no longer business as usual. You must engage.
Why NGOs always win
No company is immune from threats posed by NGOs. While multinational brands are susceptible to pressure from activists and NGOs eager to challenge a company’s policies or track record on labor, environmental or human rights issues, smaller businesses are also feeling the pressure as NGOs target downstream customers and shareholders.
Gone are the days when you could lay low and ride out attacks from hostile critics. NGOs have become formidable opponents, and they always win. “Winning” means that corporations and/or governments are forced to do something they wouldn’t have otherwise done if left to their own devices. Even if corporations would have made these changes on their own eventually, pressure from NGOs prompts change that’s driven by someone else’s timeline.
While NGOs always win, that doesn’t mean you have to lose. It does mean you’ll need to engage with NGOs differently, however, than you have in the past. When done right, you gain a critical opportunity to build trust and protect your brand.
How to engage—and win—with NGOs
Start by laying the groundwork for engagement. Schedule time to bring your communications, operations, regulatory and legal teams together to assess your company’s risks. You can learn more about how to identify and categorize your risks here.
Only after you’ve identified your company’s unique risks will you be prepared to engage with NGOs. Below are Kith’s recommendations for how to engage with NGOs effectively.
1. Partner with credible NGOs. Use superior situational intelligence (media monitoring, customer insights and data) to identify NGOs that share your core principles. Be discerning. Also, be willing to engage NGOs for their expertise (which can include political or scientific understanding). Explain the challenges your company is facing, and ask select NGOs if they would be willing to help you work through some of these issues.
2. Align on mutual goals. Collaborate with NGOs around common principles, such as the health of the planet or long-term sustainability goals. Cargill and The Nature Conservancy, for example, are aligning on mutual goals about global resource management.
3. Treat NGO engagement as a form of media relations. Work with NGOs as if they are members of the media. Reach out, develop these relationships and build a reservoir of goodwill with NGOs.
4. Connect with the public. Go directly to the public with your company’s message through social media. Consider Dawn dish soap, which donated more than $4 million since 2006 to its wildlife partners, including The Marine Mammal Center, as part of its Dawn Saves Wildlife Campaign. Dawn showcases these stories (along with some funny animal bloopers) in YouTube videos. (Dawn Saves Wildlife)
When activists attack, the risks to your company’s reputation and bottom line are higher than ever. Engagement with NGOs is no longer optional; it’s necessary.
Readiness and preparedness are essential. Given the changing landscape, including greater regulations and consumer demands for transparency, companies win by planning ahead, assessing risks and embracing NGO engagement best practices.
While working with NGOs and building trust takes time, you have the ability to help your company succeed during critical moments.
Check out other critical moment insights for smart people in our blog archive.