How to fight 'on all fronts'

Your June 5 editorial, "Reputation battle needs to be fought on all fronts," is 100% right.

Your June 5 editorial, "Reputation battle needs to be fought on all fronts," is 100% right.

But far too few corporate communications heads seriously engage "on all fronts." They promote their brands and defend their firms well, but they've mostly failed to build public trust in corporate America.

Edelman's 2006 Annual Trust Barometer found that just 28% of all people surveyed viewed information from corporate CEOs as credible. Such low levels of trust make almost everything corporations seek to achieve much more difficult.

What are PR leaders doing to change this? The facts are that the ethics of corporate America as a whole are not as abysmal as the media often suggest.

The 2005 National Business Ethics Survey, conducted by the Ethics Resource Center, shows US workers have seen improvements in integrity standards in their workplaces in recent years and view current standards as being quite high.

At the same time, compared to 20 years ago, more US companies are pursuing sound environmental programs, more US enterprises are acutely aware of human- and labor-rights issues overseas, more US firms have proactive policies to end discrimination against gays, lesbians, and ethnic minorities, and more US companies are putting more resources into compliance with ethics codes and standards than ever before.

However, progress has been overshadowed by several tales of corporate fraud, crime, greed, and lying, as well as record fines for wrongdoing. So egregious have been the scandalous acts of numerous corporate executives that restoring public trust in business will be a complex, long-term undertaking. Further deterioration in public trust may encourage additional governmental regulation of business, which could weaken corporate competitiveness and undermine economic growth.

The stakes are high. If PR pros are to truly fight the reputation battle "on all fronts," they must be fully engaged with boards, CEOs, and corporate ethics officers in addressing substantive issues that help build corporate cultures with integrity.

This means PR pros need to confront CEOs and board compensation committees about the reputational impact of outrageous top compensation. It demands facilitating dialogues with civic groups on CSR policies and publishing credible annual corporate citizenship reports. It necessitates involving all corporate employees in processes that make the corporate code of conduct a living, meaningful, guiding framework. And it calls for communications pros to protest vigorously when efforts are made to cover up scandal and refrain from taking responsibility for ethical failure.

Companies that claim to do good and produce healthy items won't be believed if, at the same time, they can't convince their stakeholders that they walk the ethics talk. PR pros must make the restoration of corporate trust in America a top priority. To do so, they must be far more active in fighting on all fronts.

Frank Vogl
President, Vogl Communications

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