Wall Street Gives Back—To Neiman Marcus

As we get into the holiday season, begin to rehash the year and take stock in what we’re thankful for, I know Wall Street won’t be on my list. It appears to be “back to normal” for Wall Street bankers, chronicled in today’s Huffington Post story. From hiring dwarfs for bachelor parties to plucking down big bucks for limited-edition Camaros, while generally keeping the luxury goods sector in the 7% to 10% sales growth range from last year (while sales at Kohls and J.C. Penny dropped)—it’s déjà vu all over again. With corporate trust among the U.S. public in the dumpster, this brazenness boggles the mind. Is there anything that PR should be doing to at least deflect these displays of opulence? Where is CSR when you need it? By the way, the guy who hired the dwarf was fired, so let’s give credit where credit is due. For a story in contrast, check out this great piece in the latest Smithsonian. Happy Thanksgiving!

–Scott Van Camp

Truth, Trust and Transparency

Last night I attended the Institute for PR’s Distinguished Lecture event in midtown Manhattan. A lot of PR luminaries were there, and I have to say it was pretty inspiring to mingle with some brilliant communications minds. The guest lecturer, Bill Margaritis, senior VP of global communications and investor relations at FedEx, spoke on the chief communicator’s unique abilities to “see companies from all angles, which uniquely qualifies us to lead this transition back toward truth, trust, and transparency.” He also said this: “We must teach and empower even junior communicators to respectfully question and probe business practices, standards, and proposed actions with their business-side counterparts.” (here’s the full transcript).

Prior to Margaritis’ speech, Margery Kraus, president and CEO of Apco Worldwide, received the Alexander Hamilton Medal. In her acceptance speech, Kraus called on communicators to “build on values and nuture and protect opportunities.” Then, this morning on the train, I read a disturbing page one story in the NY Times. The Chinese government appears to be throwing “troublemakers” into their psychiatric hospitals—people with no mental health problems who are subjected to shock treatments and drug therapies for years. I got to thinking, if communications can build on values and establish truth, trust and transparency in Corporate America, could it and should it be doing more to fight injustice around the world? What do you think?

–Scott Van Camp

Two Steps Back for PR

The PR profession continues battle on the reputation front. One step forward and two steps back seems sometimes to be the choreography of our trade, which is lambasted daily by those who under-value the role communicators play in our world – be it business, government, education and culture at large. This is not to say that all PR is good PR. But there is still work to be done by PR practitioners to prove the value of communications.

Take for example a short book review in the Nov 15 issue of Time that begins:  “Great P.R. flacks are as talented with misdirection as they are with the truth.”   If that doesn’t cause consternation among the PR ranks, what will?

Surely, the reviewer Kate Pickert (a staff writer for Time on the health care beat) has some biases.  She is reviewing the new book “Deadly Spin” by Wendell Potter, a former PR exec for Cigna who confesses that he  “sold my soul” for his insurance company employer who allegedly denied coverage to sick patients in the name of profitability.  So  Potter wrote a book about it (for profit presumably), Picket highly recommends the book and PR hits a setback.

The book might be true and interesting, but the choice of words by the book reviewer – much less in her lead — leads me to believe that Pickert might not trust PR and that author Potter regrets be a part of it.

– Diane Schwartz

Employees Percolate at Starbucks

There may be a culture crisis brewing at Starbucks. A Reuters story posted on MSNBC.com today reported that despite record earnings announced yesterday (86% profit gain!), Starbucks baristas around the country are complaining about a change in corporate culture. They believe cost cutting and an emphasis on “selling stuff” is changing Starbucks into McDonald’s instead of the “anti-McDonald’s.” So what happens when a company that previously took care of its staff gets so large and rich that this nurturing falls by the wayside? To their credit, the company is giving bonuses to 100,000 empl0yees around the world, but to many longtime employees,  money may not be the issue. Do you think Starbucks will address this perceived change with its disgruntled employees, or simply let them leave?

By the way, crisis communications is one of 11 hot topics covered at our How-To Conference in D.C. on Dec. 1, and coffee will be served. I hope to see you there.

–Scott Van Camp

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