2023 Insights Report on Corporate Social Advocacy

Letter to Readers

When it comes to advocacy and socially focused initiatives, companies can no longer stay silent. Studies show that publics expect corporate leaders to take stands, speak out and be part of the discussions, if not the solutions.

Conducting effective corporate social advocacy (CSA) brings with it a daunting list of challenges, especially in an age of declining trust. Volatile social media firestorms and the rise of artificial intelligence only exacerbate the challenges. With the hope of alleviating these struggles and producing strategies for public relations professionals, we chose CSA as our research topic in 2021.

Our 2023 Insights Report is the result of that research call and represents the incredible work of 23 scholars. Our Top 10 Insights highlight the importance of authenticity, knowing your audience, and making sure company statements align with company values. The Top 10 Insights are followed by additional project overviews and takeaways, but we encourage you to read the report in its entirety. Fill out the request form to receive a pdf of the full Insights Report.

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Top 10 Insights

Page Principle 1: Tell the truth

1 Authenticity above all.

In organization-stakeholder relationships, being comprehensively authentic is more important to enhancing trust and reducing distrust than simply avoiding hypocrisy or being transparent in CSA messaging.

Page Principle 2: Prove it with action

2 Walk the talk.

CSA statements must be accompanied by action to best reflect company values and promote favorable attitudes and behaviors among stakeholders.

3 Values must align.

Company statements and actions should reflect company values.

Page Principle 3: Listen to stakeholders

4 Expectations drive reactions.

When audiences believe that companies should advocate on issues and that companies are likely to act, CSA is viewed favorably. For lower-profile issues, only expectations about the likelihood of CSA occurring affect audience responses.

5 Know your audience.

Companies can garner favor with CSA supporters by highlighting arguments for advocacy that supporters already use and minimize backlash from CSA opponents by focusing messages on victims of an issue.

Page Principle 4: Manage for tomorrow

6 CSA is inherently political.

By taking a stance, companies make the political aspect of their corporate identities salient. One study found that 81.5% of companies took politically liberal stances while 18.5% of companies took politically conservative stances.

7 Ideological differences make a difference.

The stronger an individual’s political identity, the stronger the support—or opposition.

Page Principle 5: Conduct public relations as if the whole enterprise depends on it

8 Consider a range of stakeholder groups.

Many companies engage in CSA because employees or other key stakeholders expect them to take action. In women’s sport, staff members noted that advocacy was driven not only by internal objectives, but also by sponsors, fans, and athletes.

9 It’s not always about fit.

Companies are prioritizing social relevancy and timeliness of issues above fit with their business focus. One study found that 78% of CSA messages were not related to a company’s main business purpose.

Page Principle 6: Realize an enterprise’s true character is expressed by its people

10 Create shared purpose.

Even if a company decides not to take action externally, companies should communicate internally about the topics that are important to employees. This can foster a sense of shared purpose with employees and build trust, which ultimately contributes to employee retention and loyalty.

CSA in Women’s Sport: A Business Opportunity?

How do professional women's sport organizations use social media to engage in advocacy? What are the key considerations for staff?


  • Prove it online and offline: Advocacy-related social media posts were often accompanied by in-game promotions and community engagement. Staff noted the importance of following up on statements with action to make a difference in the community.
  • Listen to stakeholders: Staff members noted that advocacy was driven not only by internal objectives, but also by sponsors, fans, and athletes.
  • Advocate authentically: Some staff perceived advocacy as inherent to women’s sport because of the historic marginalization patterns. In this approach, diversity and inclusion are integrated with the growth of leagues/teams and the professionalization of women's sport.

Eliciting Emotion in CSA Messages

Consumer reactions to advocacy can be visceral and swift, both for and against a cause. What role do specific, self-transcendent emotions play in these strong reactions?


out of 352 CSA messages contained a self-transcendent emotional elicitor.


of messages were not related to a company’s main business purpose.


of messages were supportive of an issue. Very few spoke out against a topic.


of messages took a stance on racial or social justice. The appreciation for excellence elicitor was most common here.


  • Companies are prioritizing social relevancy and timeliness of issues above fit with their business focus.
  • Issues that cover social-related topics, such as race/social justice, may be best served by including language demonstrating hope or appreciation for excellence.
  • More politically-related topics, such as voting rights or health statements, may find more benefit in expressing thankfulness and gratitude.

Audience-Centered Advocacy

How do audience expectations affect reactions to advocacy and assessments of authenticity?


  • Not all issues are equal: Standing up for some issues (e.g. social justice) may evoke more politicized controversy than other topics (e.g. climate change)
  • Expectations drive reactions to advocacy: When audiences believe that companies should advocate on justice issues and that companies are likely to act, CSA is viewed favorably. For lower-profile issues, only expectations about the likelihood of CSA occurring affect audience responses.
  • Authenticity takes effort: For CSA to be seen as authentic and beneficial, companies must be sincere and consistent with engagement, while showing a willingness to take risks.

Talking the Talk vs Walking the Walk

Corporate Social Advocacy can be statements or actions supporting one side of an issue. Should companies prioritize statements or actions in CSA?

Past research has shown that CSR is better received by the public when it is backed up by actions. Statements alone can stoke skepticism. This research extends knowledge beyond CSR to CSA.


  • CSA must be seen as values-driven in order to garner positive responses among the public.
  • This values-driven attribution can impact attitudes and behaviors, such as perceptions of a company, positive word-of-mouth, and purchasing.
  • Company actions that communicate a substantive commitment to CSA include company-focused changes to products (Study 1) and broader societally-focused actions like policy advocacy (Study 2).

Politicized Responses to CSA

CSA initiatives are often politically divisive. They tend to attract some stakeholder groups while alienating others. How does alignment between an individual’s political views and a company’s politicized stance influence attitudes toward a company?


of companies took politically liberal stances


of companies took politically conservative stances


  • CSA is inherently political. By taking explicit stances, companies make the political aspect of their corporate identities salient, and the congruence between companies’ and publics’ identities becomes the basis for stakeholders’ reactions.
  • The stronger an individuals’ ideological identity, the stronger the support (or opposition). Companies should balance positive returns via support from significant stakeholder groups and potential risks of alienating certain stakeholder groups.

Reaching Supporters & Opponents of CSA

CSA is divisive by nature. How can companies maximize support among those on both sides of an issue when taking a stand?

Companies will be more successful when highlighting arguments for advocacy that supporters already use instead of contradicting talking points from opponents.


  • Shifting focus to victims impacted by a problem can make opponents of a stance more receptive to CSA efforts and less likely to boycott or speak poorly of a company.
  • On the other hand, focusing on stakeholders’ identity as advocates and using familiar arguments can further rally them to support a company and its CSA.

Proving a Commitment to Advocacy Through Leadership & Action

How can different kinds of advocacy and CEO actions work together to support positive responses to CSA?

A CEO’s leadership is congruent when their past behavior aligns with their company’s advocacy stance.


  • Get Aligned: It is crucial for brand leaders to demonstrate values consistent with their company’s CSA through their own actions.
  • Authentic CSA Wins the Day: Consumers use CSA to judge a company's authenticity. Authentic communication is crucial for brand success.
  • Less Talk, More Action: Consumers want brands to take explicit action. Raising awareness about an issue is not enough.
  • Know Your Audience: People who are highly involved in an issue may be more receptive to an array of advocacy strategies.

CSA from the Perspective of PR Pros

How do organizations make advocacy decisions? How do practitioners balance the perspectives of various constituents?

“...if it relates to your business or your business is affected or has a direct line of influence or impact into a topic, you're going to lose a lot more by being silent than if you would take a stand or put a line in the sand...”


  • Be mindful of internal publics. By communicating views on issues that matter to employees and their communities, organizations can strengthen relationships with employees.
  • Define guidelines for advocacy. The lack of precise guidelines for CSA at the organizational level hinders professionals’ ability to make consistent decisions. Creating a framework of when and how they speak about specific issues can help.
  • Weigh potential backlash against stakeholder priorities. The fear of getting in trouble creates tension in organizations. Communications professionals can reduce reputational risks by ensuring clarity, transparency, and authenticity in CSA.

Special Insight: Authentic Advocacy

Quantitative and qualitative studies were conducted to better define, measure, and assess the impacts of authenticity in CSA.

Graph titled Effects of Authenticity with authentic advocacy bars in purple and inauthentic bars in dark blue.


  • It’s Complicated: Stakeholders have a complex understanding of authenticity that covers views on truthfulness, impact, persistence, and congruence.
  • Be Comprehensive: Strategize around and measure all four dimensions of authenticity to understand stakeholder views, build trust, and avoid backlash.
  • Authenticity above all: In organization-stakeholder relationships, enhancing authenticity may be more important than simply avoiding hypocrisy or offering transparency in CSA.

Read the Full Insights Report

The 2023 Insights Report on Corporate Social Advocacy was created by Holly Overton, Associate Professor, and Cassandra LC Troy, Ph.D. Candidate, in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State.

The report is a significant part of the Page Center’s mission, which is to enhance ethics and integrity in public communication. We do that by translating the work of our scholars into practical and useful information. The nine projects in this book integrate scholarly work with the needs of the profession and provide a foundational understanding of ethics for every level of communicator.

Please fill out the form to receive an email with a link to the full report.

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Thank You to Our 2023 Sponsors

Platinum Sponsor

Gold Sponsors

Friends of the Page Center

  • Lynne and Roger Bolton
  • Charles Schwab
  • Edelman
  • Gagen MacDonald
  • Gladstone Place Partners
  • GM
  • Jane Conley
  • Google
  • Intuit
  • iQ 360
  • Bill Nielsen
  • Pfizer
  • Prosek Partners