Executive Briefings

Activists Are Most Likely to Target These Types of Firms, Study Says

With the uncertainty that accompanies any changing of the guard in Washington, businesses and the stock market can get nervous. This year, however, the uncertainty is intensified by deep partisan discord among politicians, who have the power to alter the business landscape through policy, as well as citizens, who may turn to activism in an effort to have their voices heard.

Indeed, pundits are warning businesses that "consumer boycotts could become pervasive on both sides" of the partisan divide and that "companies should plan for widespread pocketbook protests." Although the targeting of firms for their real or perceived political leanings is a relatively recent phenomenon, activism directed at companies is nothing new in the story of American business.

Shareholder activism has often sent a powerful signal to both investors and analysts, whose assessments of a company can have considerable economic consequences for a firm. Over time, shareholder activists can influence firms’ practices.

Activists, whether shareholders or consumers, represent the full range of the ideological spectrum. And they choose to target different types of companies, and use divergent tactics to draw attention to their causes. Letter-writing campaigns, shareholder resolutions, lawsuits, and boycotts have caused companies to incur very different costs — lost earnings, lower market cap, public-relations and legal fees, and managers’ time and resources. Some activists’ tactics may also attract attention from the media and regulators, which can in turn impact a company’s reputation and bottom line.

Amid this complex reality, the authors of a new study sought to provide managers with a more nuanced understanding of activism directed at corporations. The study aims to provide insight on which types of firms activists are most likely to target, what tactics they’re likely to face, and the implications for corporate strategy.

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Indeed, pundits are warning businesses that "consumer boycotts could become pervasive on both sides" of the partisan divide and that "companies should plan for widespread pocketbook protests." Although the targeting of firms for their real or perceived political leanings is a relatively recent phenomenon, activism directed at companies is nothing new in the story of American business.

Shareholder activism has often sent a powerful signal to both investors and analysts, whose assessments of a company can have considerable economic consequences for a firm. Over time, shareholder activists can influence firms’ practices.

Activists, whether shareholders or consumers, represent the full range of the ideological spectrum. And they choose to target different types of companies, and use divergent tactics to draw attention to their causes. Letter-writing campaigns, shareholder resolutions, lawsuits, and boycotts have caused companies to incur very different costs — lost earnings, lower market cap, public-relations and legal fees, and managers’ time and resources. Some activists’ tactics may also attract attention from the media and regulators, which can in turn impact a company’s reputation and bottom line.

Amid this complex reality, the authors of a new study sought to provide managers with a more nuanced understanding of activism directed at corporations. The study aims to provide insight on which types of firms activists are most likely to target, what tactics they’re likely to face, and the implications for corporate strategy.

Read Full Article