Nick Nichols

I was intrigued that a huge corporate PR firm and a pro-union activist group would join forces to conduct a survey and sponsor a discussion about CSR. What did these strange bedfellows have to gain?

A quick recon of the Fleishman-Hillard website answered half the question. It would appear that the flacks at Fleishman have been preaching the gospel of corporate socialism to their clients, and then cashing in when it’s time to write reports and news releases to communicate their clients’ good deeds. The firm has a sizable government relations practice, too. So, if the federal government gets involved in regulating CSR, Fleishman gets to wet its beak again. Now, thanks to the survey, PR firms involved in exploiting CSR can point to public opinion to justify their parasitic behavior.

What about the National Consumers League? Well, it turns out that of the 2,000 consumers interviewed about CSR, a significant number expressed the opinion that a company’s treatment of its workers is more important than its environmental performance. Wow! If I were a cynic, I would wonder which came first, the question or the answer. In the hands of pro-union activists, this survey response is political dynamite. Now organized labor can claim that while environmental issues are hot topics in the news media, the survey proves that corporate treatment of employees is a higher priority for Americans. Higher wages and benefits can now be part of the corporate social responsibility litmus test.

In a previous column, I called CSR a corporate shakedown racket. I stand by my words. CSR was conceived by activist groups, baptized by public relations charlatans and confirmed by corporate appeasement artists. I remember being told not to worry, that CSR was completely voluntary. Tell that to the new Speaker of the House, and to the international bureaucrats who are busy drafting CSR standards while corporate leaders soak in their Jacuzzis.

If Americans fail to question the bovine flatulence being spread about corporate social responsibility, the socialists will accomplish in corporate board rooms what they have failed to accomplish in the voting booth – destruction of free enterprise and rejection of the economic principles that made this country what it is today. When that happens, I wonder whether some PR firm will conduct a public opinion survey or sponsor an expert panel discussion? I suspect not. By then, public relations (a.k.a. propaganda) will be the sole function of government.

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.