Let’s Try Responsibility Before We Write It Off
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Let’s Try Responsibility Before We Write It Off

Paul Holmes

I agree with almost everything that Jim Lukaszewski writes in this “tip sheet” when it comes to the need for chief executives to communicate better. He’s right when he says “It is still the rare CEO who truly understands the power and the nature of being visible—not only inside the organization but in other venues as well.” And he’s right when he says that one problem is that “many [corporate communicators] seem to know very little about what their CEOs, senior managers and operators do. Of all the staff functions, PR seems to have the least substantive contact with managerial leadership.” But I find it odd that Jim chose to place a strong argument for higher visibility in the context of a complaint about the effectiveness of corporate social responsibility. For one thing, he cites an article that appeared in The Wall Street Journal, purporting to make “The Case Against Corporate Responsibility,” that I thought was one of the weakest I have ever seen. For another, it seems off to argue that “the evidence is starting to mount” that corporate social responsibility “will never do the trick” in a column that is all about negative perceptions of business caused by irresponsible behavior. Negative perceptions of Wall Street, it seems to me, are driven by the fact that many large Wall Street firms were systematically dishonest in their dealings with customers. Negative perceptions of oil companies are driven by the fact that they lobbied to dismantle regulations designed to protect the environment and then cut corners that made environmental disaster almost inevitable. It’s certainly not absurd to argue that trust in these institutions would not have sunk to an all time low had they behaved a little more responsibly. And I would have thought the best possible public relations advice for companies that want to rebuild the lost trust would be to behave a little more responsibly. In fact, I’d argue that any CEO who starts communicating aggressively to external audiences before his (or her) company commits to greater corporate responsibility is likely to do more harm than good.
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