Many people think of public policy as the work of politicians. When corporations become involved, it’s a common belief that they do so only to throw influence and wealth behind political issues. Many also believe these issues purely benefit the company and its industry, but not the population at large. As a result, corporations face a lot of distrust from the media and consumers alike.
For multi-national corporations, this becomes an even greater problem. As different countries and regions change laws, the company too must change internal policies to reflect this – or lobby for change. This means having different public policies for different regions. It may also mean becoming the alien invader when lobbying for changes in regions where the corporation is not a native.
To tackle these problems, companies need to balance private company interests with genuine consideration for public interests. While a company naturally wants to influence policies, which benefit its business, this often includes decisions that may harm the environment and the people living in it.
For instance, in 2010 BP spilled 134 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This oil spill was catastrophic; not just for the company on account of the entire “inventory” it lost, but also for the ecosystem, and the people who lived in the affected areas.
BP’s bottom line personal interest encouraged it to fight tooth and nail to avoid any settlements regarding the incident. But it soon learned the importance of long-term reputation over immediate dollar signs, and put an end to that.
On April 4, 2016, a federal judge finally ordered BP to pay an estimated $20 billion to resolve six years of legal back and forth regarding the spill. Rather than balk at the high number or attempt to have it reduced, the company issued a statement saying, “We are pleased that the Court has entered the Consent Decree, finalizing the historic settlement announced last July.”
Identifying a Cause
Other companies like Chipotle, Bank of America, and Pepsi Cola have more elaborate public policies, which help to further their brand. For instance, Pepsi Cola focuses a good deal on environmental sustainability. Similarly, Chipotle focuses on organic ingredients and healthy eating. And finally, Bank of America dedicates much of its resources to fighting HIV infections in children.
In some instances, the cause identified helps the company’s bottom line. Pepsi’s water conservation efforts mean it pays less money as a company for utilities. For Chipotle, branding itself as an organic alternative to fast food helps it to build on the recent organic health craze.
In the case of Bank of America, supporting the reduction of HIV infection rates in children does not directly affect its bottom line. However, it does help to humanize a company; often distrusted as one of the biggest financial corporations in America. Had Bank of America identified a cause that suited their bottom line; it might have only fuelled further distrust.
As with any other business need, there are experts who specialize in this area, and a part of public relations is handling government and public affairs. Subsequently, smart corporations hire the pros to help them make the best decisions. These decisions should further personal interests, without making the company look as though it is going against what is best for the public.
By hiring professionals to focus on these areas, companies can work on providing the goods and services that keeps them in business. And PR gurus can handle the internal politics behind achieving goals, and moving forward on a global scale.
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