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“Bashing Big Business” in politics — the antidote

It takes a good dose of “chutzpa” and hubris to take issue with BloombergBusinessweek. Especially the Bloomberg part. But here goes:

Let us consider the BBW February 19th – March 6th article, “Americans are bashing Big Business. Why won’t it fight back?” (We won’t address the vile print cover illustration.)

Fundamentally, this is about the reputation of “big business”.

Keynote of the article: “The pitchforks are out for Big Business. Can it afford to stay silent?”

In the wake of the current existential national security/privacy public debate between the U.S. government and Apple/Silicon Valley companies, “silent” seems poorly timed as the article’s assessment of business issue-communication. And Peter Coy, author of the article, after contending that business “has turned the other cheek”, “hasn’t shown up” and has exercised a “hunker down strategy”, remarkably reports that recently “Big Business … scored one victory after another in Washington.”

What’s going on here is that business leaders  are being pragmatic on issue management. They are often resisting going public — giving an issue undesirable “legs” — unless it makes strategic sense. As Mr. Coy points out , “The last thing CEOs want to do is get into a Twitter war with Trump or provide Bernie Sanders with red meat for his next denunciation of bankers.” Instead, CEOs are relying on direct input to legislators and regulators, which, of course, is their Constitutional right.

Moreover, the root challenge of business’s defense of its reputation is media’s preference for confrontation on issues.

And so companies — and other institutions — are now producing, or cooperating with, an array of new communications vehicles: many thousands of corporate websites; “native advertising “(purchased media) in legacy media; and even specialized  corporate social responsibility news channels. A few of examples of the latter: The United Nations Global Compact, Business For Social Responsibility and yes, Business in Society. The Huffington Post has established a “What Works” (good news) platform.

The vast content in these media are not “puff pieces.” Instead the preponderance, and the most effective, begin with spotlighting significant issues in society — environment, women’s empowerment, sustainable development etc.– and then citing how business is helping to address these issues. The near-genius here is how these business performance commitments are improving society even as they are integrated into traditional business objectives and responsibilities, not only as challenges but also as opportunities.

None of this is to mitigate the need for legacy media attention to business transgressions wherever they can be documented. But essentially “news” reflects change,  positive or negative. Surely there is space and time enough in legacy media to deliver both regularly.