Communicators, this is your moment

Business Roundtable’s new definition of the corporation is a story waiting to be told.

Marijuana is now legal in many states, and it looks like Jamie Dimon and his fellow CEOs hit the dispensary and are feeling really groovy.

That was my initial reaction after Dimon, chairman and CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., and almost 200 other corporate titans from such behemoths as Amazon and Coca-Cola signed off on the Business Roundtable’s “redefinition” of the purpose of the corporation.

The statement affirms that American companies, in addition to providing long-term value to their shareholders, should also deliver value to customers, invest in their employees, deal fairly and ethically with suppliers and support communities by protecting the environment and embracing sustainability.

In the statement, Dimon, who also serves as chairman of the Business Roundtable, said, “The American Dream is alive, but fraying.”

As an old editor of mine used to say, “No shit, Sherlock.”

Given the current state of things in America, it would be easy to react cynically about the Roundtable’s announcement.

Here’s an idea: Let’s not.

Do the chiefs really mean it? I hope so. I personally know a lot of CEOS who really care about this stuff. But the bosses can’t go it alone. They’re going to need help, from those same employees and communities and suppliers and, yes, shareholders.

And from one other group.

That would be you.

If this is a real thing, we’ve got a potential game-changer on our hands. And that means communicators have an unprecedented opportunity for influence. Communicators need to both cajole and counsel, pushing for this to be real.

It’s  not enough for companies to announce they’re all about shared prosperity and sustainability for all. As the old newspaper saying goes, “Don’t tell me. Show me.”

In a recent opinion piece, Ayana Gibbs, a senior associate of marketing and communications at Palladium, took on the question of whether this is a “fundamental change, or just another CSR initiative.”

She quotes William Upshur, Palladium’s senior manager of the Commercial Innovation Practice, who says: “This may be symbolic, but it’s got more teeth than your typical PR.”

“It’s easy to cynically sit in the bleachers and deride this announcement as toothless, but this is the centre of international business leadership looking up and saying that they fully understand that ‘shareholder value’ doesn’t cut it for customers, or investors for that matter.”

This is about thinking big and about building these new practices into the business model, Upshur said. The folks at Palladium know all about that. The global firm helps leaders increase their bottom line through sustainable and profitable business strategies. They like to say, “We know that working toward the greater good creates the greatest opportunity.”

Great. Let’s get on it. And when companies start doing all this good, their communicators will be there, as Washington Post publisher Phil Graham once said, to write “the first draft of history.”

This isn’t an initiative, or a campaign. This ain’t no grip-and-grin photo op with a big check. This isn’t a program. It’s a way of being.

And if it happens in a meaningful and visible way, what a story it will make.

Jim Ylisela is co-founder of Ragan Consulting Group.

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