My Viral LinkedIn Post About Abortion, and the Power of Brands Taking a Stand
In my lifetime, that word has made it into the pantheon of lightning-rod utterances to touch a nerve in just about any circle it gets brought up in. Stripping away terms like "life" or "choice" and getting to the act at the center of the argument almost guarantees to stir up thoughts, stances, histories, moral posturing, and certainly emotions.
The recent Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade felt in some ways like a cementing of the fact that we are living through truly consequential times. The sort of times I relate back to my parents' generation of assassinations, the moon landing, hippies protesting, the war in Vietnam, and the general divide in the country to make it all the worse. In certain ways, these last several years feel more turbulent due to the divide being more pronounced and becoming more impactful.
I moved to Texas with my family eight years ago, and in that time we've felt like Forrest Gump at home in Alabama in the late '60s/early '70s. Texas finds a way to be in the news for polarizing events, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. The decorum is different here than it is in California, where I'm originally from, which I like. The general stances on major issues are also different here, which I tend not to like. However, I'm one who generally keeps those thoughts and conversations to a smaller, in-person level.
That is, until it came to abortion.
My wife and I were talking about the overturning of Roe, like everyone else in the country was, on the day it happened, and I was saying it'll be interesting to see how certain companies respond to this. She asked me what ButterCo would do, what I would do, if anything. It's a topic that has become so touchy and so specific in how anyone speaks of it on an individual level, that it's easier to leave it alone or be very cautious in how you support either side through veiled language.
I am all for the tenets of what makes this country great, which is to have the freedom to believe what you want, worship how you choose, support what you deem valuable or worthy, and speak how you feel. So, no matter where you land on topics like this one, you shouldn't fear giving a voice to your heart and mind. I respect that. I am completely in favor of that. That is at the core of what makes this country great.
This last week I started trending on the internet. It was for a LinkedIn post I made concerning my views on abortion. This is what I said:
As the comments, reactions and shares came in, they were, surprisingly, almost all in favor of my position. But once I saw the momentum the post was gaining, I knew it was only a matter of time until the detractors came flooding in, and they sure did. A common response was pointing to my kids in the picture and saying how lucky they were that we didn't abort them. The thing is, when my wife, who was my 22-year old girlfriend at the time, and I found out she was pregnant with our oldest, we most certainly had a discussion about whether or not we would go forward with the pregnancy. We were young and broke, and in many ways not ready to have a kid, so it was a very logical conversation. We chose to move forward with the pregnancy, and Ava is now 16 years old. It has a beautiful ending. For us. But we're not everyone. Our situation is not one that was/is universal, and that is the whole point about having a choice, right?
Advocating for women's reproductive rights isn't really the point I'm after with this article, though. Most people know where they stand on this subject, and that's that.
My point is more people wonder the same sort of things these days. Thoughts like: What sort of brand do I work for? What sort of position is my company taking? Is there one at all?
Those questions are harder, but worthy of exploring, and, furthermore, answering.
I have a small company, and those who are involved are mostly like-minded, but not all, and that's 100 percent fine. In fact, it's better than fine. It's how it should be, it's how real life mostly is. But it shouldn't stop the company at large from taking a position, having a response, taking their employees' thoughts and feelings into account. The reality is, for most companies, the potential financial ramifications will seep into their decision-making, and honestly, that's fine too. Again, that's real life. But it shouldn't paralyze you from saying, or better yet, doing something you believe is right.
Beliefs can be viewed as currency in today's world. But that's a cold way to look at it. There is something more human at the center, and humans are what is always at the center of any business anyway.
I received an email the other day in response to my post that said, "I am interested in an advertising partner. However, since abortion is more important than business, I will look elsewhere. Enjoy... Tom."
I haven't responded to anyone who has sent things like this, and I don't plan on it either. But I'll say this to you, with the greatest respect to free speech and individual thought, Tom, if you're reading: From the sounds of it, I don't wouldn't have any desire to work with you anyway. And it's not because Tom doesn't see eye to eye with my views, it's because he's holding fictitious money hostage for me having/using a voice on the matter.
Taking a stand means leaving money on the table, it means potential employees and clients Googling what you've said or done before. It takes risk.
But taking a stand also means helping people, furthering causes, amplifying voices when they need it. It's a bat signal to those who care about the same things you do. Potential employees and clients alike. When Nike decides not only to back Colin Kaepernick on his act of protest, but double down and make him the center of their ad campaign, there are financial risks and rewards considered, but there is also a larger reason to take that action.
In my personal experience, two agencies I once worked for had a heavy liberal lean to them, and it started up top. In Las Vegas, Billy Vassiliadis, the CEO of R&R Partners, was at the center of a company that was early to be vocal in gay rights, and human rights at large, he helped many Democratic elected officials in Nevada with their campaigning, even hitting the road with Obama when he was running for office. At GSD&M in Austin, Roy Spence (the "S" in the company), though no longer actively leading the agency by the time I arrived, also had a strong and public record of springing into action after 9/11 or natural disasters. He is also friends with the Clintons and supported their agendas.
That's taking a position. Saying, I'm putting on record where my views are. Where my company's views are. I'm telling anyone who cares to listen that I'm not a fence-sitter on these matters—maybe not all matters, but at least the ones that take on a bigger meaning to you and your company.
The stance Roy and Billy took weren't popular to everyone, but that's also what makes any stance more pronounced or worthy, if you believe it is something that needs to be pushed to change. R&R and GSD&M also did plenty of business with conservative-led companies, and still do. It's not that those things have to be completely at odds, either.
Business may go down, it may go up, you might make headlines, or it might be a tree falling in the woods, but one thing that will definitely be gained is a purpose. It's more than a business strategy, it's allowing the human part to take the steering wheel for a bit and become vulnerable to opening the doors to those who are with you, as well as those that aren't.
It might be the overturning of Roe v. Wade that wakes you up a little more. It was for me. It might be something else that has happened, or that is coming, but change comes from voices being used, being heard, actions being taken. Capitalism has many pros and cons that come with it—one of which is the power brands, corporations and companies big and small have in our daily lives. If we point those voices in the right direction, change comes.
But it all starts with choosing to use that voice.