"I know that it is very popular these days to talk about woke capitalism and woke companies, but the reality is if you spend any time at all interacting with business leaders, you know that the number of business leaders who are in any sense woke is infinitesimally small," PRovoke Media founder and chair Paul Holmes tells Doug Simon.

The reasons behind ESG and DEI initiatives, Holmes says, have much more to do with the bottom line. "The reality is that the things that business are doing that get identified as woke are utterly pragmatic. They are business common sense. And what we have here is a war between pragmatism and ideology."

Sorting out that controversy presents a major challenge—as well as an opportunity—for PR professionals, Holmes says. Communicators, he tells Simon, "need to be able to make the objective case that engaging on issues of ESG and DEI is not something that companies are doing to be fashionable or faddish or to win friends in the progressive political community, they are things that are of critical business importance to their stakeholders."

Companies have also "realized that they need to express their values—in terms that go beyond 'we make great products and we sell them to the world.'" Because of that, "purpose has become a huge part of marketing."

Holmes also sees the wave of "anti-woke" sentiment as someting that cannot simply be tied to political ideology. "I know plenty of people who identify as Republicans and conservatives and are perfectly fine with the idea that actually ESG is good for business. That DEI is good for business."

Defusing anti-woke sentiment, according to Holmes, depends on coming up "with a framework that says these are the issues that we should engage on, these are the issues that are sort of central to who we are and what our values are as an organization."

Another key element is "making sure that your CEO is prepared for whatever backlash is coming." But he also stresses that "you can't make everybody happy. And this has to be a decision that is based in values, based in who you are, based in what you stand for as an organization. More than ever it's now the role of corporate communications and public relations professionals to define your values and then to make sure that you're living them in a way that is credible and authentic."

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