Public Down on CEOs, So What’s the PR Alternative?

Posted on November 18, 2011 
Filed Under General

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

Comments

  • http://www.SpectrumMontessories.com Deirdre Kelly

    The CEO’s can change the public perception of them if they get MORE involved and MORE VISIBLY involved in community service. You only have to look at that home makeover show on TV where the local community & local BUILDER, local CAR DEALER fix up a family in needs home and ask yourself “How do I feel about this Builder, this Car Dealer”, do I think the CEO of this company is ethical.
    If BIG COMPANIES can take a ‘leaf from this book” and CEO be seen as ‘caring’ and ‘personally involved’ I think they will gain the same benefits of public perception that they are the ‘good guys’.
    Our organization is pitching this to Orange County Large Employers – by supporting us they solve a not only a community problem and a workforce problem they can gain a lot of GREAT PR from their taking a lead on bringing ‘near-site, non profit, true workforce solution child care centers to serve the children of Orange County’s working families. Nationwide only 5% of child care center capacity is for infants and toddlers – 50% of our centers’ capacity will be for this age group.

    Deirdre Kelly
    CEO & Founder

  • Michele Horaney APR

    “Good works” are good. Important. Nice, even.

    But in these times, worrying about a CEO’s “image”, without considering the larger, greater issues surrounding and involving business is almost a luxury item.

    The public is now demanding (re: Occupy Wall Street) and definitely deserves transparency, honesty, and ethics from business leaders. These are the only qualities that count and help “improve” a CEO’s image.

    Recent comments from B of A’s CEO Brian Moynihan all but pathetically whining that the public didn’t realize “how much” B of A did for communities in terms of public service, and asking why everyone was so unhappy because, after all, the bank “gave back” so much showed just how tone-deaf some highly placed peoples in business can be, and are.

    Before we start worrying about whether our boss should show up somewhere for a photo-op and if it’ll help the company, we need to ask these questions: Where does a company stand in terms of ethics? Good business practice? Prices charged or percentages of interest imposed? Salaries paid to executives in comparison to lower-level workers? What is done with investments?

    Many of us won’t like the answers. And we also may know that our bosses won’t like the answers to our questions about those answers.

    Ladies and gentlemen, this all matters. A lot. And we PR professionals better grow strong backbones right away to tell our bosses the truth and start dealing with it all right now.

  • Michele Horaney APR

    “Good works” are good. Important. Nice, even.

    But in these times, worrying about a CEO’s “image”, without considering the larger, greater issues surrounding and involving business is almost a luxury item.

    The public is now demanding (re: Occupy Wall Street) and definitely deserves transparency, honesty, and ethics from business leaders. These are the only qualities that count and help “improve” a CEO’s image.

    Recent comments from B of A’s CEO Brian Moynihan all but pathetically whining that the public didn’t realize “how much” B of A did for communities in terms of public service, and asking why everyone was so unhappy because, after all, the bank “gave back” so much showed just how tone-deaf some highly placed people in business can be, and are.

    Before we start worrying about whether our boss should show up somewhere for a photo-op and if it’ll help the company, we need to ask these questions: Where does a company stand in terms of ethics? Good business practice? Prices charged or percentages of interest imposed? Salaries paid to executives in comparison to lower-level workers? What is done with investments?

    Many of us won’t like the answers. And we also may know that our bosses won’t like the answers to our questions about those answers.

    Ladies and gentlemen, this all matters. A lot. And we PR professionals better grow strong backbones right away to tell our bosses the truth and start dealing with it all right now.

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