He said trust in companies has fallen to about the same level as Congress gets and it will not return to previous levels until “our publicly-traded corporations return to committing themselves to the goal that once served the greater good of the corporate constituency and our great country as well.”
“In the interests of improving return on investment, work forces were reduced, defined benefit pension plans were scuttled in favor of 401-K’s, philanthropic initiatives were curtailed—all in the interest of increasing earnings," he said. “Takeovers generating substantial fees and transactional costs expanded exponentially.”
Burson said the all-out quest for high earnings to satisfy Wall Street analysts was accompanied by the “extraordinary failures in the banking industry.”
Earlier in his speech, Burson described four roles for today’s corporate PR officer.
--“They serve as the sensor of social change, perceiving those rumblings at the heart of society that auger good or ill for their employers. They signal the early warning. And after detecting the yearnings and stirrings, they interpret the signals for the management team.
--“They are the corporate conscience. I am not inferring that PR executives behave in ways that are either more moral or more in the public interest than fellow executives bearing other titles…but being the corporate conscience is not part of the job description of the other executives.
--“The third role is that of communicator…it is not their only role although it is an important function. Communication for almost all institutions has two main audiences, one external, the other internal. Usually most emphasis is placed on external communication—especially to the media, both traditional and digital. But, increasingly, internal communication may be even more critical.
--“Fourth role is for the chief PR officer to serve as corporate monitor. I am tempted to use the word ombudsman because I think chief PR officers should regard their position in that context. There is a constant need for monitoring corporate policies and programs to make certain they match public expectations.”
Presenting the Paladin Award, which recognizes “a heroic champion,” was Jon Iwata, senior VP, marketing and communications, IBM, who was the 2011 Paladin recipient.
Text of Burson’s address is here.
Robert DeFillippo, chief communications officer, Prudential Financial, announced the founding of the Ofield Dukes Scholarship in honor of the PR Society Gold Anvil recipient who died last year.
Dukes had a long career as an advisor to Democratic party leaders including presidents.
The first Chester Burger Scholarship for excellence in PR went to Kristin Boucher of the University of Houston.
The program was conducted by Gail Rymen, president of the Foundation.
Conclusion was given by Louis Capozzi, who is president-elect of the Foundation.