Corporate Values and Public Relations
Peter C. Woolfolk Published: Nashville Business Journal March 2007
In the wake of recent corporate scandals and continuing revelations the American public has a growing mistrust for business and their senior leaders.
This past summer, a Roper poll cited 72 percent of respondents believing wrongdoing among businesses was widespread; up from 66 percent last year.
Obviously, Adelphi, Enron and WorldCom added ample fuel to that fire of continuing doubt. They were not alone. The public believes the oil companies inflated prices during the damaging summer hurricanes. The Halliburton company was caught overcharging the government during operations in Iraq. Many company CEOs receive remarkable salaries—even when the company is losing money. Several Tennessee firms have been accused of performing shoddy work or overcharging the state for services.
It is meaningless for a company to simply post company values throughout their building if there is no correlation between the words on a fancy poster and the conduct of its senior officials. Most companies actually strive for integrity, respect for people, quality, satisfied customers, innovation, and fair return for shareholders. A few companies may cast a wider net and include warm and fuzzy programs about community or suppliers. But without matching public behavior and deeds the words quickly become empty and hollow to employees and the public.
How does a company operationalize its values to gain public trust and confidence.
Fortunately, there are companies and their leaders who set strong examples in ensuring respect for all people and ethical action in operating businesses in their communities and environments. They align their philanthropic activities to company business objectives and leverage their core business to demonstrate the unique benefits of their company’s contributions. These leaders match their words with legitimate actions. By developing external programs that focus their values of economic, social and environmental responsibility, companies establish their reputations beyond business success and shape opinions about their leadership role as solid corporate citizens. Then, they share their values with the media and communities benefit from their generosity.
For starters, the board of directors should be emphatic and resolute about its adherence to company values and ethics. The president must then drive the point home to employees. Violations of the ethics policy should visit major consequences on scofflaws. Remember the Boeing executive who collected his pink slip for dalliances with a female co-worker.
Corporate officials with insight understand that a company's value is far more than tangible assets alone. The corporation's values and ethics are essential in generating a positive emotional response by stakeholders each time the company's name, people, or products are mentioned. Managed responsibly, values and ethics can safeguard reputation, allow issues to become opportunities, increase public trust, and establish exceptional competitive advantages. Indirectly, companies gain positive public relations from their positive values and ethics. In the current climate companies not having actionable values and ethics policies are being disingenuous to their stakeholders and are operating on borrowed time.
Peter Woolfolk is President & CEO of Communications Strategies in Nashville.
 309-8402 or firstname.lastname@example.org.