Should You Promote the Business of Business? Corporate Story

Is it your job as a private sector company press officer to promote business and capitalism to the world? Or is that the role of business organisations like the CBI and the IoD? Or maybe each company blowing its own trumpet leads to a better collective reputation?

It’s Monday 18th November. The ‘companies’ page of the BBC news website had 11 news stories on it. Five were descriptive; six were negative:

  • Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn arrested over ‘misconduct’
  • Vision Direct hack puts customers’ money at risk
  • TSB appoints new boss after IT fiasco
  • Energy firms likely to miss smart meter deadline
  • Consumers ‘wrongly’ told by banks that they did not have PPI
  • What happened to Woolworths’ stores 10 years after closure?

Another busy day at the office for some PROs.

But the relentless drip-drip-drip of negative stories stands in contrast to many people’s experience of working in the private sector. While only a little over half of private sector employees in the latest CBI survey think the reputation of UK business is good, three quarters of them report a positive relationship with their employer.

So assuming we care about the reputation of overall business, what is to be done?

Is it enough to say that another company’s failings are their affair and just get on with promoting your own triumphs? Or should business people be making a bigger, bolder and regular case for business?

In the CBI survey, 9 out of 10 people wanted businesses to speak up on the big issues impacting society. They want business practices that are fair, they want business to make a difference and they want business to show how it is contributing to a more prosperous society.

These are things that businesses can do regularly. Not just when we have a CSR or HR-related announcement to make. We shouldn’t pre-suppose that people buying our products and services are buying into free markets. As the energy and water utilities have discovered, Jeremy Corbyn plans to nationalise them – despite all the public good they claim to do; any company with more than 250 employees will have to give away 10% of its shares to a worker’s fund.

In the words of the Martin Niemöller poem “first they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a communist”, the final line reads “Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

Or we could just hope that the general public doesn’t read the companies page of the BBC website.