The Trump Administration is busy reversing a myriad of policies that had been put in place by the previous administration. They say these policies "hinder productive business growth and job creation". I am not arguing that one way or the other. I do want to remind us, though, of the impact these decisions could have on the bottom line of many organizations.
It is evident, despite the pendulum swing to the right, that the majority of society does care about — and hold accountable — organizations who conduct themselves in ways that damage the environment, discriminate against employees, cheat customers, etc. Even if the court of law says these actions are technically legal, the court of public opinion will prevail in the form of fallen reputations, loss of profits and in some cases, businesses that are forced to close their doors.
Consider just a few examples from the past and today — Philip Morris and cigarettes, Hooker Chemical and Love Canal, W.R. Grace famously retold in "A Civil Action", and more recently, Volkswagen and BP Oil. Sometimes these actions were legal — but eventually, these companies suffered for those actions and were deemed “unethical” if not “immoral”. As society evolves and becomes more and more sensitive to "bad actors", it is even more critical that public relations have a seat at the management table to weigh in on business decisions, anticipate the issues that could take our organizations down and help to build the bank of goodwill that will keep reputations intact during a crisis situation.
Public relations practitioners today have the great responsibility of building and protecting organizational reputations over time. We should be impacting decisions before they are made and warning leadership about actions that could hurt the organization in the future. It is our job to warn leadership of the long-term effects of bad decision-making. Whether these actions are legal or not, the question is: are they ethical? responsible? in the best interests of our organization in the long run?
Here are a couple of examples of businesses seeking regulatory rollback:
And some examples of companies trying to do the right thing:
Stacey Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA
Senior Counsel & Partner, JJ&W