Wharton on "moral decoupling," McKinsey on social
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Wharton on "moral decoupling," McKinsey on social

Paul Holmes

Inspired by fans of Tiger Woods who were willing to overlook the golfer’s transgressions, Wharton marketing professor Americus Reed and a couple of his students looked into “moral decoupling,” or how good people continue to support bad brands. “By disassociating morality from actions, a person can wholeheartedly support the public figure without being subject to self-reproach. ‘Moral decoupling enables individuals to acknowledge that a public figure has engaged in an immoral act, but argue that this act should not influence judgments of performance,’ the authors write.” The research focuses on athletes and celebrities, but the implications for corporate brands are intriguing. Using General Electric as an example, the McKinsey Quarterly looks at “six social media skills every leader needs.” The publications says: “We believe that capitalizing on the transformational power of social media while mitigating its risks calls for a new type of leader. The dynamics of social media amplify the need for qualities that have long been a staple of effective leadership, such as strategic creativity, authentic communication, and the ability to deal with a corporation’s social and political dynamics and to design an agile and responsive organization.” The pharmaceutical industry’s reputation continues to languish, and a Forbes blog by former Pfizer executive John LaMattina has some suggestions. His focus on transparency—in the indistry’s dealings with physicians and its reporting of clinical data—is spot on, but his most controversial suggestion calls on pharma companies to abandon TV advertising. “I realize that companies are allowed to advertise their drugs in accordance to FDA guidelines. But the ads may be doing more harm than good…. Plus, the public views these ads to be a waste of funds that could otherwise be invested in R&D or in lessening drug costs.” UPS has stopped donations to the Boy Scouts of America because of the organization’s continued discrimination against homosexuals (and atheists, though they’re not mentioned in the article). In a clear statement of principle, the company says: “"UPS and The UPS Foundation do not discriminate against any person or organization with regard to categories protected by applicable law, as well as other categories protected by UPS and The UPS Foundation in our own policies." Expect more companies to follow this example. Andrew Last, a principal at UK’s salt (a past winner of our Corporate Consultancy of the Year), pens an eminently sensible article for The Guardian in which he writes that “corporates are adopting the power of PR as an accelerator of change, which can have benefits across multiple audiences including company staff.” My only quibble is when he writes that PR should act “as an agent for change rather than to gloss up reputations.” I’d argue that the only way to really burnish an organization’s reputation is by acting as an agent of change. In an increasingly transparent world, anything less is likely to backfire. Meanwhile, Chris Salt of UK corporate and financial consultancy Headland, has some solid crisis advice as a contributor to an FT question about the role of senior leadership during a crisis. “With public trust being what it is, companies can’t see themselves as somehow outside public discussion. They have to do more to explain themselves.” The first line of this Guardian story about Southampton Football Club says it all. And finally, is there any question that Edelman’s Trust Barometer, now in its 12th year, is the most quoted piece of intellectual property in the PR industry. The most recent iteration is a hot topic at Davos, and the subject of this FT piece.
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