What are we to make of the Occupy Wall Street protests that broke out in New York City in September and subsequently spread across America and the rest of the world?
At the time of writing, the protests lack focus in terms of overall message or objectives. However, just as clearly, they have tapped into a zeitgeist that is sending out an unequivocal message to government and corporate America. A slice of the population is extremely dissatisfied with what they see as an abrogation of responsibility, particularly in regards to "bank bailouts, corporate greed, and the unchecked power of Wall Street in Washington."
The protests raise more questions than they answer: What outcomes do the protesters want? How long will they last, especially when the cold weather sets in? Are the protesters truly representative of the minimum waged and disadvantaged or are they privileged liberals speaking to issues about which they have little personal experience - and, if the latter, does that matter? Are they attacking the right targets? Many of the workers they are targeting are no longer on Wall Street - many people in the financial and banking industries are simply hard-working individuals trying to support their families. And, finally, why do the protesters have to constantly blow whistles and bang those annoying drums?
Seriously though, unfocused and lacking in direction as the protests may be, they have clearly hit a nerve of dissatisfaction among the general populace. They remind us that corporations and governments only exist with the permission of the people. They reinforce the notion that, in the long term, doing good has to be good for business, especially in a world where transparency, responsibility, and authenticity are paramount.
Initiatives such as Edelman's Trust Barometer, Weber Shandwick's Social Impact group, MSLGroup's Beyond Purpose initiative, and many similar programs show agency communicators are ahead of the curve on this. They are helping brands, corporations, and organizations demonstrate that having a purpose in business is no longer a "nice to have" - it is a "must-have." But what the protests clearly highlight is that there is certainly no room for complacency.