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Escaping the Taint of Scandal
When combating corporate mistrust, truth is the ultimate spin.
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by Robbie Vorhaus
Vorhaus & CompanyRobbie Vorhaus

A lot of very hardworking, honest corporations took heat over the summer as a result of scorching corporate scandals la Enron, WorldCom, Tyco and others. 

Now is the time for all honest companies to understand the universal benefits of classic storytelling, which is the only way to establish collective trust.  Simply providing a standard information flow, with no point-of-view or value attached, leaves you susceptible to external interpretation, which essentially is someone else telling your story.

Chief executives need to communicate clearly and honestly what their company stands for to myriad audiences, including employees, investors, board of directors, their selling chain and industry influencers, because the financial numbers mean nothing without the trust behind them.  After all, when it comes to corporate storytelling, truth really is the ultimate spin. 

  • Verify.  Before pounding your chest proclaiming superiority because your company is untainted, confirm that it actually is.  If irregularities do surface, insist they are handled quickly, honestly and legally.  A new government order requires CEOs to certify the accuracy of their public financial disclosures.  Scrupulous executives will welcome this safeguard, which companies can use to demonstrate their integrity. 
  • Be prepared.  Routine media interviews regarding marketing initiatives, earnings or other topics can be opportunities to provide insight into your corporate governance.  Journalists are apt to take advantage of these high-level conversations anyway to throw in a question or two such as "Will there be any surprises from (your company)?" or "How are you reacting to President Bush's crackdown on corporate wrongdoing?"  Preparing answers to the most likely questions in advance will help you reinforce your track record of ethical behavior, financial transparency and commitment to corporate values that clearly dictate doing what is right.
  • Tell your story internally.  Employees need just as much reassurance that you are above board and solid as the rest of your influencers.  With formerly aspirational companies like WorldCom and Arthur Anderson laying off thousands of workers, concern over job security is high.  This can interfere with productivity and undermine corporate loyalty.  Now is a critical time for your CEO and/or other internal leaders to reinforce the company's ongoing pursuit of its business objectives while at the same time making it clear that unethical behavior will not be tolerated.  Also, as ambassadors to the outside world, employees will likely be asked if their employer is the next Enron.  Make it easy for them to give an unequivocal "no." 
  • Revisit corporate values.  You may think your corporate values speak for themselves but will a sampling of employees confirm this?  Create a culture where these values are reinforced every day and become as second nature as breathing.  To ensure everyone understands its expectations, DuPont posts "The DuPont Business Conduct Guide" in multiple languages on its web site.  First published in 1989, the Guide "provides information to guide employees so that their business conduct is consistent with the company's ethical standards."  Clear guidelines and values are equally important to potential employees as many job seekers are now conducting ethic audits, attempting to ensure the company they join will both value integrity and endure.

While the evolving corporate scandals raise questions of every organization, the squeaky-clean ones will see that this is really an opportunity to celebrate solid business practices and philosophies that draw closer its investors, employees, customers and other important influencers. 


Robbie Vorhaus is president & CEO of Vorhaus & Company Inc., 
a New York-based public relations firm.  He is currently 
writing a book entitled, "Truth, The Ultimate Spin." 
He can be contacted at vorhaus@vorhaus.com
or visit the firm's Web site at www.vorhaus.com.    





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