Nick Nichols

Mr. Google was kind enough to send me a press release last week trumpeting the results of yet another public opinion survey on corporate social responsibility (CSR). According to the release, a huge percentage of Americans want Congress to ensure that companies address pressing social issues. The headline announced that an expert panel was going to convene at Georgetown University that very day to ponder the political implications of the survey.

The survey and the panel were sponsored and hyped by Fleishman-Hillard Inc., a big-league public relations firm, and the National Consumers League, a tax-exempt activist group with strong ties to the AFL-CIO, UAW and others unions. Their press release claimed that over 2,000 American adults were questioned about CSR during telephone interviews conducted by a professional interviewing service. Neither the press release nor the survey’s Executive Summary revealed the actual questions that were posed or how the survey participants were selected.

I have lived roughly fifteen minutes from the White House for almost three decades. During that time, I have learned three important facts about the political machinery in our nation’s Capital:

1. It is nearly impossible to convince even a simple majority of Americans to agree on anything, at any particular point in time;

2. “Expert panels” are often the purveyors of bovine flatulence (a.k.a. spin); and

3. Public opinion surveys are about as easy to manipulate as global warming computer models.

So, when I read the press release I concluded that something might be rotten on the banks of the Potomac.

For starters, the release claimed that, “82 percent of Americans want Congress to ensure that companies meet pressing social issues,” and that 65 percent of Republicans agree. I can only assume that the telephone interviewers must have been handed Hugo Chavez’s rolodex by mistake, because they certainly could not have been calling card-carrying Republicans.

However, failing to pass the red-face test did not stop the PR firm’s president from pontificating that, “As a result of the public’s expectations, next year’s elections may lead to greater government involvement in the role business plays in responding to societal concerns.”

The survey sponsors also claimed that 77 percent of the people interviewed agreed that there is a need for international CSR standards. So, if this survey is legit, a huge majority wants the U.S. Congress and, I assume, the United Nations to regulate and standardize how private corporations contribute to society. All those French socialists who disappeared during the recent election have apparently found their way to our shores and are biding their time answering phone surveys.

Nick Nichols

Nick is a retired crisis communications executive. He also developed and taught graduate-level crisis management courses at the Johns Hopkins University. Nick is the author of Rules for Corporate Warriors: How to Fight and Survive Attack Group Shakedowns. He is a Vietnam veteran.