Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Make Companies More Socially Responsible

Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Make Companies More Socially Responsible

Article excerpt

Perhaps "we are on the brink of the development of the humane corporation," stated John L. Paluszek, APR. A proponent of "corporate social responsibility" for nearly two decades, he is PRSA's 1994 Gold Anvil Award recipient for outstanding contributions to the advancement of the public relations profession. PRSA's highest individual tribute, the award will be presented on Nov. 14 during PRSA's 47th National Conference in Baltimore, MD.

The "humane" corporation is one "that thinks in human terms with all of its audiences, starting with employees," Paluszek explained. President of Ketchum Public Affairs, Paluszek was interviewed in September at the firm's brand-new offices in the Daily News building in New York City.

There will be an "integrated standard" of success for companies in the future, he said. The "new age" company will be judged not only on profitability, return to shareholders and payment of taxes to support the government, but also on its "corporate citizenship" in relation to all of its constituencies.

Corporations will adopt social responsibility not out of altruism but in their own enlightened self-interest, Paluszek explained. "It's becoming clearer to top management that every constituency that has contact with a corporation can affect its bottom line.

"There should be a budget for corporate responsibility as there is for research and development and manufacturing," he went on. The responsible corporation today must be active in legislative and regulatory matters and responsive to the media, he said.

For this reason, there should be a public relations officer on every corporate board, Paluszek said. He predicted that this practice will be common "within a decade." However, public relations professionals "have got to earn their places at the table," he said. They've got to "stop whining" about being elbowed away by others. "Top management, far more than ever before, appreciates the importance of bidirectional communications," Paluszek said. "We come to the table with expertise on the effects audiences--investors, customers, employees--have on business. No one else does."

The United States has developed as a result of "social capitalism," Paluszek went on. For instance, workers' benefits tend to be funneled through employers. Environmental protection measures are also often underwritten by businesses. Such costs are frequently passed along in the price of goods and services to customers. The public accepts these charges as a condition of living in a progressive democracy, he explained.

In a global interdependent economy, the modern company must also be aware of its environmental impact, said Paluszek, who chairs, and helped to found, PRSA's Environment Section. He was president of PRSA in 1989 and chaired its 1992 national conference.

Environmentalism has come full circle, Paluszek said. In the '70s, activists and consumer advocates went to war against businesses that polluted. There was very little dialogue between the two sides. Now, environmental activists are partnering with business and industry, he reported. The Environmental Defense Fund, for instance, is working with General Motors and McDonald's.

"There's been a lot of remedial action on the part of industry. There's been a real movement to face up to the problem voluntarily or involuntarily," he said. Public relations has played a pivotal role in changing this situation, the expert noted.

"We're moving from confrontation to consensus and compromise," Paluszek summarized. This is what happens in a U.S. society predicated on "a system of checks and balances," he said. "Today's activists are joining industry and government in compromising on such issues as pollution standards."

Environmental improvements are accepted as a "cost of doing business" today, Paluszek stated. "But companies have to be socially responsible within the context of economic reality." There are currently more than $100 billion worth of federal mandates for environmental clean-ups that are unfunded, he went on. …

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