Three headlines in the MSM this past week have me wondering if global corporations are moving toward the 2-way symmetrical model of PR. Evidence is anecdotal at best, but these cases are worth discussing, since they show some of PR’s “bad guys” doing good things.
The Wal-Mart Bonuses. I about fell over when I heard our old friend Big Wally is doling out $500 million in bonuses, most of it to hourly workers. Isn’t this the same company demonized by Barbara Ehrenreich in her populist book “Nickeled and Dimed”? The same company held up to ridicule in the “The High Cost of Low Price”? The same company that, in partnership with Edelman, pioneered the “flog”?
Before you nominate Big Wally for “Humanitarian of the Year,” be sure to read Jeffrey Goldberg’s story in the New Yorker. Richard Edelman calls the story “biased and one-sided,” and he’s right. But if you’re like most of us, you tend to believe the worst about Wal-Mart, thanks to the company’s record of consistently bad behavior.
Let’s move on to another retailer that makes its living in a big box.
Home Depot’s 15,000 new jobs. This essay from Scott Burns shows what can happen when corporate blunders attract the attention of a prominent business journalist. Home Depot had it coming, and Burns let ’em have it.
Under former CEO Bob Nardelli, Home Depot cut costs by cutting staff hours and customer service. Ooops! It led to a rash of customer complaints and a weak bottom-line performance that cost “Little Jack” his job. Don’t fret for Nardelli. He walked with a $210-million golden parachute, giving us another reason to curse big corporations — but that’s another story.
Home Depot says it’ll spend $300 million to staff up its stores — slightly more than it paid Nardelli to take a hike. The retailer will hire up to 15,000 additional workers, so service is sure to improve. Will the bottom line follow? We’ll see.
Subaru’s Nonunion Shop. The third story is bad news if you’re a union supporter, good news if you’re a car manufacturer. The story focuses on Subaru, but it also tells how most Japanese automakers operating in the U.S. have seen little interest from employees in organizing unions. Why is that?
It’s a simple formula, really. Pay workers a fair wage with good benefits and, shazam! They come to work on time, they work hard, they produce quality cars — and they don’t show up at union organizing rallies.
Officials of the UAW see a conspiracy, but I don’t. Disclosure: I’m a union member and I own three Subarus.
So, is big business becoming enlightened when it comes to fair treatment of workers? Or have I simply cited three examples of companies that will do whatever it takes to survive — even if it means being nice to the peons?
In the end, does the intent of these companies really matter? Or should we simply focus on their deeds? Wal-Mart employees get a bonus, Home Depot workers get more hours, and Subaru drivers get great cars made by happy employees.
So, as I ask in the headline, is big business starting to get it, or am I just a dumbass optimist?
The symmetrical model of PR is easy to defend from an ethical perspective. You know, “respect for persons,” the “Golden Rule,” and all that. But I’ve not seen overwhelming evidence that symmetrical practice leads to measurable behaviors or bottom-line returns.
Thanks to its cut-throat nature, capitalism doesn’t always reserve a seat at the table for conscience and morality. So the challenge to PR remains a tough one: How do we convince management that the 2-way symmetrical model is good for business AND good for the bottom line?
If Wal-Mart and Home Depot will lead the way, our job gets a whole lot easier.