10 Tips for Activists When Engaging Companies

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10 Tips for Activists When Engaging Companies

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Overcome roadblocks & drive positive change w/10 tips for #activists when engaging companies http://bit.ly/1isc0U1 via @Future500

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013 - 3:00pm




Activists provide the critical checks and balances on the corporate sector, serving as one of the core drivers of progress across the globe.  Holding companies  accountable for their social and environmental footprint is critical in addressing some of the greatest challenges affecting our society.  Our team has experienced first-hand how companies quickly come to the table when this pressure is activated and we continuously try to push companies to be proactive – not reactive – so that they can solve problems in a more genuine way.

Following on our earlier piece on the Top 10 Tips for Corporations When Engaging Activists, this piece is intended to share with activists the dynamics we often see at play behind the scenes when companies are engaging the activist community.  We see common roadblocks that if not addressed effectively, can lead to longer periods of conflict, breakdown in negotiations, and greater mistrust on both sides.  With so many critical environmental and social problems facing our society, we hope our advice can help overcome or prevent these hurdles and more quickly drive positive change.

Future 500 has been working between corporations and activists since our founding eighteen years ago. The tension in these engagements can often lead to breakthrough systemic solutions when the two sides find the common ground discussions necessary to advance solutions.  Our organizational mission is to enable these conditions for corporations and NGOs through stakeholder engagement.

We have often seen that activists achieve the highest outcomes with companies when they follow these key tips:


Break the stereotypes. Just as activists may carry around simplistic caricatures of corporate executives (e.g. rapacious profit mongers), so do corporate executives often stereotype activists (e.g. naïve anti-business tree huggers). They only see the actions that reinforce their prejudice – they try to ignore the rest. Surprise them. And let yourself be surprised by them.

Demonization is only a tactic.  You may plan to demonize your adversary as part of your supporter mobilization, but remember, demonization is a tactic, not a truth.  In war, perhaps it’s necessary to believe every enemy soldier is a demon.  In reality, few are truly evil.  Most are caught up in a system that needs to change.

Show your human face, and see theirs.  For constructive dialogue, it’s essential to humanize yourself and your organization, especially if you have just launched a public campaign and the company feels attacked.  Drive to understand the various executive decision makers who can help you advance your objective by getting to know their interests, backgrounds, and world view.  We find that breakthroughs often happen over simple connections, particularly in an informal setting – such as a shared love of fly-fishing or passion for a particular alma mater or sports team.

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Keywords: Media & Communications | Companies | Engagement | Future 500 | Positive Change | activists