Many critics live to make sure that none of big business' gooddeeds go unpunished

Consider the case of Coca-Cola, which negotiated with Warner

Bros. to become the sole sponsor of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's

Stone. As part of its sponsorship, Coke is donating $18 million

to Reading is Fundamental, an organization that focuses on child and

family literacy issues.



Over the course of a three-year sponsorship, Coke will provide 10,000

sets of books to kids from kindergarten to third grade, reaching up to

five million children.



Needless to say, Coke is now under fire. The Center for Science in the

Public Interest has joined with 40 other organizations to criticize the

agreement and to put pressure on Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling to

repudiate the deal.



"Children and adults worldwide are outraged that Harry Potter is being

used to market 'liquid candy' to kids," says Michael Jacobson, executive

director of CSPI. (He doesn't say how many kids are upset. My guess is

about three.) "Over-consumption of Coca-Cola contributes to obesity and

diabetes, reduced nutrient intake, and tooth decay."



Under-consumption of literature leads to other problems - including the

inability to read ingredient labels - but that's not Jacobson's

problem.



Consider next the case of Bayer, which in the wake of September 11

ramped up production of its anthrax drug Cipro, and which subsequently

pledged to meet the government's increased demand for the drug and

offered to halve its price.



While many editorial writers cheered, others accused Bayer of "war

profiteering" (nothing like inflammatory rhetoric to illuminate an

issue). Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wanted the government to override

Bayer's patent, and Village Voice columnist Sharon Lerner suggested the

company should give Cipro away.



Interestingly, no one ever suggests that in war-time Boeing should build

military aircrafts for free. And yes, I know the cost of producing the

pills is cheap, but the price of pharmaceuticals isn't based on the cost

of their ingredients any more than the price Lerner is paid for her

columns is based on the cost of the paper and ink it takes to print

them.



What's the lesson in all this for companies and for communicators? There

are a lot of people out there who don't have a life. Until they get one,

they're going to do all they can to make yours as miserable as

theirs.



Many of them (and this is not a blanket condemnation of consumer

activists) are ultimately more interested in sniping at big business

than they are in public health and welfare.



The other lesson is that companies need to remember that business is not

a popularity contest, nor is PR - the latter is about building

relationships with key stakeholders. The aforementioned programs will do

just that - build long-term reputation capital for the companies despite

the sniping they have attracted in the short-term.



Paul Holmes has spent the past 15 years writing about the PR business

for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation

Management.



He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of

www.holmesreport.com.



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