The Company You Keep

The Company You Keep


Tell me with whom you associate, and I will tell you who you are.
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Like many of my fellow Canadians I watched in shock and horror the coverage of the latest mass casualty shooting in the United States at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentines Day. While I tried so hard not to be cynical about the response, the inevitable talking points that I expected to dominate the media coverage did indeed fill the air waves.

Our thoughts and prayers… Now is not the time to talk about gun control… A good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun… We need to address mental health in this country…

None of these statements ever addresses what is at the heart of the crisis. Normally this buys time for one side time to stifle debate and allow the public’s attention to move to the next breaking news event in our non-stop news cycle world.

It worked in response to the Sandy Hook shooting, which left 20 young children dead. It appears to have worked for the Las Vegas shooting that a friend of mine was caught up in. They tried it again this time, but it’s not working. The students of Stoneman Douglas High School are not going to let it.

In the wake of this most recent tragic massacre, the student of the school have found their voice. I believe that they, along with the #MeToo movement, have sparked a new generation of activism that will be difficult to surpress.

They rightly believe that schools should be a safe place for them to learn and grow into thriving adults. They are intelligent, articulate, engaged and connected. They are having an impact. They are flexing their influence and speaking truth to power – elected officials and dare I say the even more powerful National Rifle Association (NRA). They are having an impact.

At one point, #BoycottNRA was trending on Twitter. The message in social media are being amplified by politicians who support stronger gun regulation, celebrities and other opinion leaders. Students at other schools across the United States walked out in support. A rally in Washington is being organized.

In recent days, the President of the United States proposed some measures that stand in contrast to the NRA. Florida’s Governor also proposed changes to that state’s gun laws that defy the NRA and address some of the student’s concerns.

From a communications perspective, what is even most interesting is the reaction of corporations.

According to media reports, in recent days more than a dozen companies have all cut ties with the NRA, ending sponsorships and no longer providing loyalty discounts to their members. As companies take this action, they are getting support and inevitable criticism.

But why did they act now? They have had other opportunities and reasons to break ties with the NRA over the years. I think their action can be directly linked to the new generation of activists who refuse to be silenced. Companies are being judged by the company they keep.

From the early days of my career I heard that communications is conscience of the organization. I think that holds true today more than ever. As we go about our regular practice, including environment and stakeholder scans, we need to take a wider view. We need to clearly see the intersection of outside events and the reputation of our organization.

We have to be prepared to raise ethical concerns and point out the risks to the C-Suite. We ourselves need to have the courage to speak truth to power for the good of the organization whose reputation we are there to promote and defend.

As we have seen with the #MeToo movement, and now the students of Stoneman Douglas High School, the public reaction can be fast and loud. No responding in a timely manner can have real consequences. If we have done our job, we will be ready to respond when it really matters and help our organizations to do the right thing.

What do you do to keep your organization ready to quickly respond to emerging issues? Share your thoughts in the comments.