Navigating New Audience Expectations

Determining when and how to engage in contentious issues

Organizations are expected to speak up

Faced with the changing expectations of their stakeholders, businesses are under increasing pressure to take a position on social and political issues. However, communications leaders can be reluctant to engage with controversial topics, fearing a negative backlash from their employees, customers and investors. But by choosing the right issues and engaging in a way that’s authentic to their values, companies are far more likely to see a positive response to speaking out.

Opinion of general poulation on companies addressing societal issues. 70% agree they expect companies to take a public position on social issues relevant to their business, and 48% agree they expect companies to take a public position on social issues regardless of the issue's relevance to corporate objectives.
Our approach has helped us ground our decisions in information. We still bring judgment into how we engage in and talk about difficult subjects, but having the insights and expectations of the audiences you care about should not be discounted. It helps frame the why and the how as you work to address those needs and expectations.

Cheryl Leamon

SVP, Public Affairs and Communications, U.S. Bank

Expectations will continue to grow

Not only are audiences increasingly expecting companies to take a stand on societal issues, but responses most often come from younger stakeholders. Gartner found that 82% of millennials who saw a company engage with a contentious issue responded in some manner. Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. workforce and the world’s two billion millennials are the largest demographic group on the globe.

Bar graphic displaying the percentage of survey respondents: 82% of Millennials, 67% of Gen X, 51% of Baby Boomers and 48% of ages 73+.

Insights you can use

We found that most people respond positively to organizations speaking out, revealing an untapped well of opportunity for organizations. Communications leaders can use a systematic approach that combines predetermined engagement criteria, a North Star to guide involvement and robust audience listening to effectively engage stakeholders. When the organization’s engagement is clearly linked to company values or business goals, it increases the likelihood that audiences will respond supportively.

Find Your North Star 

Deciding when and how to engage in contentious issues is tricky. Download our guide to learn how to develop a systematic approach to issue engagement.

Corporate Advocacy of Social Issues Can Drive Employee Engagement

Communications on societal issues can drive employee engagement — if they focus on what matters to employees, are authentic and demonstrate value. Sixty percent of employees reported improved engagement among peers after witnessing employer involvement in societal issues.

Navigating New Audience Expectations Webinar

A deep understanding of audience values and preferences helps the organization make trade-offs during the decision-making process and allows communications to tailor the message to key audience expectations.

How to Excel at Strategy and Execution: A Communications Perspective

Learn how to develop a strategic approach to social issue engagement. Download this guide on how to identify your North Star and develop a systematic approach to issue engagement.

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Gartner topic experts

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Hillary Plank
Director, Advisory

Dean Vitte
Director, Advisory

Sarah Brennan
Senior Specialist, Advisory

Joni Renick
Senior Director, Advisory

Dorian Cundick
VP, Advisory

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