Millennials Favor Companies With Activist CEOs

More than half of Millennials (51%) are more likely to buy from a company led by a CEO who speaks out on an issue they agree with, according to Weber Shandwick’s second annual survey on American attitudes toward CEO activism. 

This rate has increased since 2016 (46%). This form of “voting by wallet” is not to be ignored as companies fiercely compete for customers, according to the report. By comparison, CEO activism is less likely to affect the purchase decisions of Gen Xers and Boomers.

This year’s study finds Americans deeply affected by the current political landscape and discovers a stark difference in generational attitudes toward the trend. Nearly half (47%) of those under 35 believe that CEOs have a responsibility to speak up about issues that are important to society compared to the sentiments of Gen Xers and Boomers (28% each).



This is according to "CEO Activism in 2017: High Noon in the C-Suite," a report commissioned by global communications and engagement firm Weber Shandwick in partnership with KRC Research.

Nearly 6 in 10 Millennials (56%) say that business leaders have a greater responsibility to speak out now than in years past.

Millennials are more likely to have heard of CEO activism (48%) than Gen Xers (29%) and Boomers (35%). Millennials are more favorable in general of CEO activism (42%) than Gen Xers (25%) and Boomers (24%). They also exhibit favorability even when an issue is unrelated to the company’s direct business (37% Millennials, 19% Gen Xers, 17% Boomers).

Over the past year, the climate in the United States has changed dramatically as business and policy have intersected more deeply than ever before, said 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 U.S. from select countries, for example, social media ignited, protests erupted and media attention exploded,” Polansky says in a release. “Navigating how to communicate a company’s point of view in this environment is becoming increasingly complex and important. 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.”

Half of Millennials (50%) think CEO activism has an influence on the government compared to 31% of both Gen Xers and Boomers. Millennials perceive the primary reason CEOs take a public position on an issue is to get attention in the media (36%). This is followed by selling more products or services (22%), showing how the issue aligns with their corporate values (21%), and building their company’s reputation (21%).

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