As cities around the nation experience protests over the power of big business (see the Water Cooler on New York’s latest actions around Occupy Wall Street), a study of 1,800 American adults by the Public Affairs Council shows that the public is rather ambivalent about business. On the one hand, most respondents have a favorable opinion of major companies; on the other hand, the public is not fond at all of the people who run them. Just 6% believe CEOs have high ethical standards, and 48% believe top execs have low standards for honesty. Moreover, the public ranks CEOs’ honesty and ethics just behind those of public officials in Washington and just ahead of those of state and local government officials. All three categories receive extremely low scores. The highest scores for ethics are given to small business owners.
This data presents a major challenge for communications professionals, who are already up against negative pubic opinion in the financial space, and who look to their CEOs as the company figurehead and main spokesperson. Is it time for corporate communicators to pull back on their CEO’s visibility? What are some alternative strategies for corporate brand building that PR can fall back on to keep a brand front and center? Would love to hear your answers. And be sure to read what some industry experts think in an upcoming issue of PR News.
—Scott Van Camp