If companies behaved ethically, would they need PR?
Let us pretend that corporations, small businesses and everything in between placed ethics above profits. Would they stay afloat? Perhaps not. But in the hypothetical realm, it may be a useful exercise to imagine that businesses could care more about serving people than serving the bottom line.
For example: Let us imagine that BP established itself as a clean energy company from the start; it sought balance between providing for humanity’s needs and supporting humanity’s future. Would cost-cutting measures that put an ecosystem and a coastal economy at risk ever pass through quality control? Only if certain people are deemed more valuable than others.
This scenario reminds us of who is represented by the bottom line; stakeholders who earn corporations’ affections are generally those who have money to invest. Who could blame these companies? They are simply playing their role in the capitalist ecosystem — like vilified predators, they are just acting out their true natures. But then why bother to pay a PR firm to represent an entity like BP, when clearly its stakeholders in the Gulf are not valued stakeholders, but spotted owls blocking the path of jobs and progress?
Branding, marketing and advertising aside, PR in its purest form is a Band-aid for poor behavior. If companies behaved ethically, they wouldn’t have to apologize, or coin the phrase “corporate responsibility” or conceive of the PR stunt. They would simply act as if we are all in it together. But, of course, this isn’t the case, and therefore we aspire to careers in the business of making businesses look good and act good, even when they don’t. Of course, it’s possible that a business could look bad, even when it is good, but few examples come to mind. Perhaps the old favorite, Tylenol, can endure another round in the winner’s circle. Innocent Tylenol acted ethically, and no more. Yet Tylenol wears the gilded crown of moneymaker who put people above profits. It’s like deifying a politician for not accepting bribes.
In the case of small businesses, let us imagine that a mom-and-pop coffee shop decides it needs PR. A firm could provide a few stories in the local paper — maybe a revamped website and cross-promotion. But what can a PR firm do for a small business that depends on discriminatory hiring practices and pays minimum wage? Are there any other choices? All businesses are forced to make choices that make them look like heartless corporations. Is PR simply an endeavor to soften capitalist aims when no one wants to admit that jobs, profits and growth come at the cost of the poor, animals and the planet?