This summary blog post features a study by Barbara Miller Gaither, Ph.D., Elon University, Lucinda Austin, Ph.D., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Morgan Collins, Elon University. The full study can be found here. 

The Journal of Public Interest Communications released a new study focusing DICK’s Sporting Goods recent stance on gun control reform in the light of the Parkland shooting in February 2018.

The study analyzed the effects of DICK’s Sporting Goods corporate social advocacy (CSA) through an interview with DICK’s president, statements from the company and analysis of social media feedback after DICK’s announcement to stop selling assault-style weapons and to raise the minimum age of gun sales to 21. The study also included research analysis of the effects of corporate social advocacy and the publics’ expectations of companies in today’s sociopolitical climate.

Key Takeaways:

  • DICK’s Sporting Goods actions and public statements towards gun control reform moves beyond support for a social issue into calls for action among individuals and other companies.
  • DICK’s CSA has allowed the company to realign their stakeholders and reiterate their corporate values.
  • Consumer expectations for Corporate Social Responsibility or Advocacy in social concerns is on the rise.

DICK’s Acts on Social Issues

In their recent CSA efforts, DICK’s has repeatedly said it hoped to “bring people into the conversation” and has called on lawmakers to address the gun control issue. Many of their statements highlighted the “loopholes and inconsistencies” in current gun laws. DICK’s CEO, Edward Stack, even commented on the Stop School Violence Act, saying it is a good start, but that more action is needed.

Since DICK’s used the youth movement following the Parkland shooting as a political opportunity to enter the gun control conversation, other companies, such as Walmart, were expected to and have followed suit.

Realignment of Stakeholders and Values

This study suggests CSA can serve as a unique opportunity to both bridge and strengthen relationships with some stakeholder groups, while separating from others with whom corporate values may no longer align. Companies must consider how they want to be viewed by their stakeholders and must regularly evaluate and realign stakeholder groups as corporate and public values shift.

DICK’s recent change in policies regarding gun sales was prompted not by primary stakeholders (shareholders, employees, customers), but by secondary stakeholders (individuals without a direct influence on the company), the youth movement in Parkland. DICK’s realized they would lose sales and some customer loyalty when making their CSA announcement.

“We weren’t expecting it to be a well-received decision by many of our customers.”

Companies that do good are expected to do well

Stakeholders now expect value-oriented companies to weigh in or act on important sociopolitical issues. For companies considered to be value-oriented, research shows it is more important to take a stand on a social issue “even when such a stand runs counter to the beliefs of customers.” Consumers may be tolerant of a company’s opposing viewpoints if it is in line with the company’s stated values.

Tweets to DICK’s Sporting Goods in response to their CSA were 70% positive, 14.8% neutral and 15.4% negative. DICK’s seems to have gained new customers because of their social activism.

“@DICKS You’ve earned my loyalty! You’re doing the right thing, even if it hits the bottom line hard. I’m proud to be your customer.”

But some of their stakeholders were not pleased. Many employees quit, and long-time customers tweeted negatively,

“You just lost a lot of business messing with our 2nd amendment rights. I know I won’t be shopping there anymore.”

Some believe that DICK’s CSA went against their corporate principles. One tweet read,

“@DICKS you literally put out an article 6 months ago about how your gun and sports [sales] weren’t good enough, and now you’re using a mass shooting to make money by pretending to care.”

The findings from this social media analysis may not be a clear representation of the public’s values since many members of the public are not on Twitter or even online. Future research should consider the use of public surveys and interviews along with diverse social media analysis.

At least in the short-term, DICK’s Sporting Goods stock prices and sales are up. Future research might explore the impacts on stock prices and/or earnings following the announcement over a longer period.

To read the full study, please visit here.

Alyssa Varas is a member of the IPR Street Team. She is public relations major at the University of Florida with an interest in social media and digital marketing. She plans to pursue her Masters in Mass Communication with a digital strategy specialization.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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