With younger, less experienced business reporters, it falls to PR professionals to spend more time explaining how a company fits into a broader social or economic trend — articulating their company’s stories in a way that the reporters can understand and appreciate. News organizations formerly provided this perspective for themselves, but that capability has eroded. “It used to be easy to put the onus of telling your story on the media because they knew how to do it,” says William E. Collins, Ford Motor Company’s New York–based public relations representative. “But now we have to work harder.”
Meanwhile, it’s more important than ever for CEOs to develop core communications messages that go beyond the issue of profitability and stock price. General Electric Company’s Jeffrey Immelt has been very effective with his company’s Ecomagination campaign, for example. Companies must define the way they appear in the world at large (right down to the policies they choose that may affect their image). Otherwise, they will allow the ad hoc winds of viral media and blogs to shape the way they are seen.
The broader and still unanswerable question is whether the decline in the quality of business journalism will have an impact on the critical business issues of the day: Are trade and globalization positive forces? What constraints should governments and regulators place on corporations? Who is more responsible for innovation and job creation — business or government?
If the shrinking business media loses its ability to raise these questions and provide in-depth news about them, then the workforce and the voting population will be more poorly informed. They’ll lack the perspective, know-how, and appreciation for business that they otherwise would have had. And CEOs whose corporations suffer a damaged reputation will have themselves in part to blame.