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CEO Thought Leadership Series from Trade Show

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Brands Taking Stands with John Friedman

Doug Simon, CEO and President of D S Simon Media, sat down and talked with John Friedman, Sustainability Manager at WGL Holdings, about some of the driving forces behind brands taking a stand on various issues.

“You can’t turn on a television, radio, read a newspaper, or get on the internet, without hearing a discussion right now today about brands taking stands. When they do it, how they do it, why they do it, and should they do it.”

“What you’re seeing is that public attitudes have not wavered– In fact, they’ve strengthened in the last few months– in terms of wanting companies, in particular, to step up and fill the void and address social issues and environmental issues as part of their business every day.”

DOUG SIMON: Hi, I’m Doug Simon, CEO at DS Simon Media. I’m with John Friedman. He’s sustainability manager at WGL Holdings. And he’s going to be chairing two panels at the upcoming COMMIT! Forum. Thanks so much for being with us, John.

JOHN FRIEDMAN: Nice to see you, Doug. Thanks for having me.

DOUG SIMON: Great. So, the one we’d like to talk about here is the idea of business drivers, behind brands, taking stands. Now, brands used to be best sort of in this wishy-washy– I mean, there’s the famous Michael Jordan, you know, Republicans buy sneakers comment. But now it seems that’s changing a little bit. Is that some of the things you’re going to be addressing on the panel?

JOHN FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, this panel could not be more timely. You can’t turn on a television, radio, read a newspaper, or get on the internet, without hearing a discussion right now today about brands taking stands. When they do it, how they do it, why they do it, and should they do it. And so we’ll be looking at some of the latest research, research that’s so new that it will be less than two weeks old at the COMMIT! Forum about public attitudes and CEO attitudes on this very topic.

DOUG SIMON: Now, I’ve seen some recent data that millennials especially look at what the public positions of brands are in issues when making buying decisions. Is this some of the trend that you’re seeing?

JOHN FRIEDMAN: Well, absolutely. And it’s not just buying decisions. People, particularly younger people, are looking for purpose with their paycheck. So it’s where they’re choosing to work, where they’re choosing to shop, and who they’re choosing to support.

DOUG SIMON: Yeah. I think the COMMIT! Forum, it’s so important, you can see the reason why it’s just taking off so profoundly, because it’s not only about the nonprofit groups, it’s not about just addressing global issues, it’s really important that corporations and organizations are really engaging with their key publics and trying to make a difference.

JOHN FRIEDMAN: Well, absolutely. And what you’re seeing is that public attitudes have not wavered– In fact, they’ve strengthened in the last few months– in terms of wanting companies, in particular, to step up and fill the void and address social issues and environmental issues as part of their business every day. And you’re seeing that at almost every level in our country and almost every state.

DOUG SIMON: Yeah, so it’s not just social entrepreneurship. If you have in this final moment, can you tell us a little bit about some of the great members of the panel that you’ve helped put together at the COMMIT! Forum?

JOHN FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. We are thrilled to have with us a representative from Cone, which has been a leader in cause marketing. And they’ll be showing their latest research in terms of public perceptions. We’ve got CECP, representing CEO values and their perceptions, and what they want to do and how they want to drive their companies in this arena.

DOUG SIMON: They’re great. I understand your third panelist had a key role in creating one of the most noteworthy Super Bowl ads this year.

JOHN FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. Yeah, we have– we’re proud to have Brunnerworks with us, who, indeed, did do the ad that featured a wall, and it aired during the Super Bowl, and, as you can imagine and remember, a lot of people reacted to that as a political message. And so we’ll be talking to them about why they did the ad, how they did the ad, how it was received both internally and externally, and how they pushed forward from that in terms of still wanting to be a brand that took a stand.

DOUG SIMON: Awesome. We look forward to it. And you had mentioned earlier about the role of the CEO. And I think it’s interesting because our own research in our guide to brand authenticity, 74% of journalists said that making your CEO accessible to the media makes a brand seem more authentic, and authenticity is a key part of what all of you will be talking about. Look forward to seeing you there.

JOHN FRIEDMAN: I look forward to seeing you again in person too. Thanks so much.