Oral Histories

James Grunig

Interview Segments on Topic: Marketing/Advertising/Branding

James Grunig Biography


INTERVIEWER: I want to switch gears just a little bit and ask you to talk about ethical mission statements or credos. I want to find out from you—my bottom line question—is it important for a corporation to have an ethical mission statement or credo? What does it do?

GRUNIG: You’re going to be interviewing the representative from Johnson & Johnson which is very famous for its credo and that has often been attributed…when Johnson & Johnson made the Tylenol decision it was equated to its credo. There’s also a great deal of discussion right now going on in the Arthur Page Society about character and corporate character and how the role of public relations in the organization should be to help define corporate character. And I get somewhat worried about that. I think credos and statements of character or lists of ‘these are our values’ and much of this takes place in a committee getting together or somebody writing down what our values are. I think that this can be taken over by a symbolic, interpretive approach. That is, we write down all of these values and we say this is what we stand for, or this is our credo, but that doesn’t show up in the behavior of the organization. I fundamentally believe that our values are exhibited through our behavior. So if indeed the credo or the corporate value statements are reflected in behavior or they are derived from behavior, these are our values because here’s what we’ve done before. They shouldn’t just be symbols that are put up there to make us look good that we don’t actually follow. There is much discussion in the symbolic interpretive approach of what I call a cognitive representation. That is, what people think about something. And it has gotten many names—images, reputations, brand, impressions—I don’t care what you call it; they’re basically all the same thing. That is, what members of a public think about an organization. And branding for example, the idea is more proactive in a sense. A brand is what we want people to identify with our organization, where reputation is more what people think after the fact. I tend to believe a brand is our behavior; that our behavior, the organization’s behavior, brands it. So when we say, if you damaged our brand by doing something unethical, that’s indeed the case. But somehow thinking up a brand and saying this is the Republican brand, for example; political parties now have brands: the Republican brand and the Democratic brand and so on. To me the brand is more of a marketing than a public relations concept and rarely, if ever, useful because I think it’s a symbolic, interpretive concept that is used to try to create some kind of meaning for people that doesn’t always exist. This is a long answer to your question. Although I think those things are important, they’re less important than day-to-day involvement in decision making. If we really want public relations to influence the character or the ethics of an organization, it does this not by writing statements but by advising and participating in decision making and communicating with publics. And then our brand emerges or reputation emerges because a reputation is what people remember that the organization did. It’s not something we create through publicity.   It’s what people recall. What is your reputation? It’s what people remember that an organization did. That takes you back to the strategic management approach and I think what’s important is to have some sort of statement or some sort of set of principles that say, this is the role of the public relations function and this is what we are trying to do. We want to influence character, we want to influence ethics but public relations has to be a part of decision making or strategic management if it’s going to do that.