Business Has a PR Problem

This recent electoral season has me reflecting on several issues of concern. One area that I continually come back to is the genuine disdain that many people seemingly have for politicians, members of the media and business leaders. I am most concerned about that last group. A Pew Research Center poll conducted last summer surveyed the confidence levels that Americans have in participants within a number of occupations. It should dismay business leaders to learn that only 4% of those surveyed have “a great deal of confidence” in the likelihood of business leaders to act in the best interests of the public. Another 37% stated that they have “a fair amount of confidence” in business leaders’ willingness to act in the public’s best interests. That leaves 59% of Americans having “not too much” or “no” confidence at all in the public motivation of business leaders. The only group that is held in lower esteem than business leaders is “elected officials.” And it is possible that group scored lower in part because the survey was conducted during a negative Presidential campaign causing respondents to grade politicians more harshly than they might otherwise.

In contrast, a recent Wall Street Journal editorial points out that American business has been the driving force behind a US economy that far exceeds that of other developed countries. In fact, it cites a 2014 OECD study that concludes that no G-7 country comes close to the US when comparing per-capita gross domestic product. Consequently, US businesses must be doing something right, and likely much of it is being done well, with an embedded sense of socially responsible behavior. US businesses must be providing jobs that pay reasonably well, building products and providing services that are in demand, and doing so in a way that far exceeds that of any other country on Earth. In other words, business leaders must be doing some things right. So why the huge gap between the facts and the perception?

It is my view that business leaders need to broadly and actively share what it is that their companies do, and how that activity provides direct and derivative benefits to individual employees, customers, and the community at large. And not in a self-aggrandizing and traditional public relations way, but in a very personal and humane manner. That message needs to be shared within the hallways of the business itself so that employees become the biggest advocate of what it is the business contributes. Business leaders at all levels should take a keen interest in helping ensure that the good that is done by the company is better appreciated within its many communities and by all of its constituents. This endeavor should be part of the annual objective of all leaders. If done well, while it is likely not possible to persuade future survey participants that all business leaders always act in the best interests of the public, at least a large majority might be persuaded to respond more favorably than they did in this last year’s survey.

“It should be our purpose in life to see that each of us makes such a contribution as will enable us to say that we, individually and collectively, are a part of the answer to the world problem and not part of the problem itself.” Andrew Cordier

By Stan McCammon

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of JGC

1 Source: Pew Research Center survey conducted May 10 – June 6, 2016
2 “Holiday Cheer From the Dismal Science,” Edward Lazear, WSJ, December 29, 2016

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