April 3, 2017
Melissa Dodd, Ph.D., has blazed the trail for research in corporate activism, a term that she has coined. Corporate activism, previously known as corporate social responsibility, takes an in-depth look at how corporations and businesses become engaged in social conversations and activism. Dodd’s research sheds light on the relationships between business, government and society. It examines the societal-level impacts of corporate activism.
“If companies are willing to risk profits to engage in charged issues, is it with a real betterment of society as the goal?” said Dodd, who is an assistant professor of advertising and public relations in the Nicholson School of Communication. “What are the impacts on attitudes and behaviors surrounding these issues? In short, my research examines the societal-level impacts of corporate activism.”
As the frontrunner in this research, Dodd has been published or referenced in major media such as The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CBS and others. Dodd said students are always welcome to reach out to her directly in order to become involved in her research. “I have plenty of ideas and individual cases, but never enough time to pursue them all!”
Dodd has presented her research at academic and professional meetings around the world. She recently presented her research at the Nicholson School of Communication’s International Crisis and Risk Communication Conference. Additionally, NYU-Oxford business school has invited Dodd to present her research at the Senior Summit for leading business scholars and professionals.
Dodd holds a Ph.D. in communication with a focus on public relations from the University of Miami. Her research in corporate social responsibility began while she was earning her master’s degree in public relations at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Her thesis covered corporate social responsibility and consumer purchase intention. She remained interested in corporate activism.
“I coined the term ‘corporate social advocacy,’ since re-termed ‘corporate activism,’ in 2012 following the same-sex marriage wars ignited largely from statements by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy. Schultz vocally supported same-sex marriage legislation and Cathy made a statement to the press supporting ‘the biblical definition of a family,’” Dodd said. “By publicly engaging in this issue, both companies had positioned themselves to potentially isolate stakeholders, while attracting the attention of activist groups. As a scholar of corporate social responsibility, I found this fascinating.”
The evolution of corporate activism has grown exponentially since 2012, from Delta Air Line’s response to the death of Zimbabwe’s Cecil the Lion, to NASCAR’s stance against the Confederate flag, to Target’s position on bathrooms for the transgender community. The 2016 presidential campaign and election of Donald Trump have only amplified instances of corporate activism.
Historically, the people pressured government to regulate business. Today, there may be a reversal of this trend. The people are pressuring corporate America to regulate government. Industry research shows that there is an expectation that companies will engage in social-political issues, and that consumers seek out activist companies.
As she continues to research this topic, Dodd is excited to see opportunities for change. “If we better understand the impacts of the interaction of companies, government and society, then we can have more informed and hopefully productive conversations about critical issues.”