Bruce Harrison, author of Corporate Greening 2.0: Create and Communicate Your Company's Climate Change and Sustainability Strategies (2008) and Going Green: How to Communicate Your Company's Environmental Commitment (1993), has been called the pioneer of corporate greening.
Bruce has provided counsel on greening/sustainability matters to more than 50 Fortune 500 companies over the course of his career as vice president of Freeport-McMoran, CEO of his Washington-based consultancy, and founder/franchiser of EnviroComm International in the U.S. and Europe. He was the first executive director of the Arthur W. Page Society, comprising senior corporate communications executives, and has since 1998 worked as a team member creating Green Diesel Technology® products at Navistar International. Bruce assists companies in connecting with effective EnviroComm professional counselors.
Bruce is a frequent speaker on greening and sustainability. His lecture, "Factors Favoring Chief Communication Officers Involvement in Climate Change and Sustainability Issues", was recognized as the best paper presented by a practitioner at the 2008 Corporate Communication International conference at Wroxton College, England.
He was recognized by PRWeek in 2001 as one of the "Top 100 Most Influential PR People of the 20th Century" for his work with companies in environmental and social responsibility.
Lee: Thank you very much for agreeing to participate in the oral history project of the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication at the Penn Sate College of Communications.
Harrison: My pleasure Lee. Welcome to Washington.
Lee: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here. Let me start off by asking you just a little bit about your background. I know you were a journalist for a time, where you are from, and how you came to the practice of public relations.
Harrison: You are right, I started off as a journalist, that is to say a newspaper reporter. Always wanted to be one. Grew up in Alabama. At the age of about ten or twelve years old my brother and I, he’s a year or two younger than I, started following newspapers, reading newspapers, and in fact started to create rival newspapers that he and I would write and try to sell to neighbors. I followed that path toward being a newspaper reporter. My dream was to become a sports reporter or a sports editor of a daily newspaper. That was my dream for many years. Ended up doing sports reporting in high school and in college at the University of Alabama. Ended up editor of the campus newspaper, graduated in journalism and had a rather brief three year career in reporting in Alabama in weekly newspapers. And then went to Columbus, Georgia where I was a political reporter at a daily. I did that until I got the call to Washington from a friend who got elected to Congress and asked me if I would come to Washington and be his press secretary, which was as they say down South, tall cotton for a little boy from Lynette, Alabama. So I did that. Came to Washington, became a press secretary and moved up to be his legislative assistant and finally administrative assistant. Did that for a few years. Then got into the political realm. Did a little campaigning, political campaigning for various candidates, including the John F. Kennedy campaign of 1960, when I was on the speaking circuit in Wake Forest, Alabama campaigning for Jack Kennedy. Not the most popular choice in my home state although there were no Republican candidates being favored in Alabama at that time either. Following that, went into industry, first with the chemical industry, then in the mining business. I became vice president of a mining company headquartered in New York where I was the, what’s now called, a chief communications officer. I was the vice president for public relations, which was interesting. Did PR not only in the US but overseas, because we opened a big copper mine in Indonesia and I was charged with handling environmental energy, international relations, and corporate communications in opening that mine. Then I got into counseling and became a consultant, which I’ve done for the last 20-25 years of my career.
Lee: Well it’s certainly been an illustrious one, and so I guess you moved from covering sports to the sport of politics…
Harrison: Yes, yeah.
Lee: …[which] can be confrontational at times.
Harrison: And the combative world of corporate communications at times.
Interviewer: So, central to the mission of the Arthur W. Page Center is the exploration of the role of ethics in public communications. So in your professional opinion, what constitutes or what are the key elements of ethical public relations?
Harrison: Yeah. Thanks Lee for asking me about ethics, certainly critical, central to communications. I would just take a minute to compliment you and Larry Foster for having created the Center there and the focus not only on Arthur Page but on the development, status and future of corporate public relations; communications just so critical in the times we are going through right now with the economy and the state that it’s in and looking ahead to the involvement of government, which I’ll talk something more about maybe if we have a chance - the role of government as it impacts corporate behavior and certainly communications. Definition of ethics for me is pretty simple. It is a matter of honesty and fairness. Fair dealing. It was in fact some years ago, I was chairman of the counselors’ academy of the Public Relations Society back in 1990 at which time we came up with our own, we called it code of ethics, but codes of ethics are difficult to put together. You can’t really require anybody to be ethical. It all comes down to what do I believe. I believe in honesty and fair dealing. Certainly the gross forms of dishonesty gets us back to what Arthur Page years ago reminded us, back in the 20s and 30s, when he said that the first principle of dealing with publics and getting their support is to tell the truth. Tell the truth and back that up with your proof. So for me and for all of us, ethics is a state of mind and that state of mind is, I will do no harm in our relationships with anybody else whether they are competitors or customers. In fact, I’ll try to contribute some good, add some value, help to create what I think is essential and that’s the win-win deal between each company and its stakeholders. And ethics come into play there with more moral behavior and mental conditioning, mental attitude.
Interviewer: What do you think the best approach to motivating people to, on their own accord, look at and adopt the tenets that are being put into place for organizations in their code of ethics?
Harrison: Because of the things you are doing, Larry and Bill Nielson and others are doing at the Arthur Page Center as well as the Society are encouraging this. Putting up standards, goals, and acceptable rules of behavior or acceptable modes of behavior. Ethics are enforced at the legal/government level right here in Washington. They are always telling lobbyists and I have been one in the past, lobbyists what the ethical rules are and those are regimented, regulated, and punished. For those who step over the line, they are fined or disallowed from practicing. And in public relations and in corporate communications, the idea for me is to set the standard, show what behavior is rewarded and point up the egregious failings when those occur. And some of us have happened and companies have lied about their product, not been totally transparent about the downside of a product, or we have been slow to respond to a realized negative. So being accountable, being transparent is part of part of how we reveal what the downside is, so back to your question. How do you enforce ethics? I think you enforce it by rewarding good behavior and walking away from bad behavior. I don’t think we’ll ever pass any laws for corporate communications.
Interviewer: So a method of rewards and transparency/accountability are going to be key.
Interviewer: Is there an inherent conflict between the short term goals of business and some of the goals which, as a counselor you are going to want to bring to the C suite, which is to think long term in terms of corporate imaging adhering to higher ethical levels.
Harrison: Right, well what you are asking is how do you sustain a company’s success when that company’s success relies very much on stakeholder opinion versus the short term – what do I do this quarter, What yield do I report to my investors? And that tension is always there. I mean company CEOs, the C suite, the leaders, the CFO are under constant pressure – what do I do this quarter? The stakeholders starting with investors do want to see a return now and a recovery now if they are in difficulty so that is there. But CEOs who understand the game, who go back to Jim Collins’ book on Built to Last or Moving from Good to Great understand that this is a long term perspective and the focus is on not only the return for this quarter, but the longer term, and how do we sustain the long term deal with our stakeholders. How do we anticipate change? How do we beat the competition for the longer term? Ethics come into play there but again it’s back to honesty and fair play.
Interviewer: Do you believe that ethical standards, I believe we touched on this a little bit, do they need to be a top down approach. Or do they need to be a bottom up kind of grassroots movement within an organization. What is the balance about where those ethics need to be?
Harrison: Well, the question is where do ethics start. And ethics, I think, start with each individual and the kinds of people that are hired into a company either will sustain or detract from the ethical behavior that the folks at the top want. Yeah, the standard, the acceptability, the behavior that is allowed, has to start at the top. It starts with the hiring process. And it has to be exemplified by the folks in the C suite or at the plant level – the plant manger or the sales level – the sales people in charge of sales. Production – the same thing. This is what we will do. This is what this company does. This is how we have succeeded in the past. This is what I pledge to do. Here are our company’s commitments. Johnson & Johnson credo – putting those things out there and showing this is what we believe and we’ll back this up. If you don’t believe this, you know it’s not a good match for you and shouldn’t probably be doing business with us, or being an employee of ours. It starts with the top, becomes a mindset, becomes a mantra, becomes rewarded or discouraged within the organization. A commitment has to be expressed. I do believe that in things like credos, or commitments for this year, or this we believe, or this is our mission, corporate mission. We’ll put in some of that belief and language that says we care about people. We care about outcome. We will do no harm and try to leave things better than we found them.
Lee: What role do you see or influence, does the media have on the temporary practice of ethical decision making in public relations?
Harrison: Media are very important in this. Media important because they are, I used to head up a program called Project Watchdog for the Society for Professional Journalists back a number of years. The idea there was, you keep an eye on government first of all and also on other institutions, including business, to see what these institutions government are doing that impact ordinary people who have vulnerability, sometimes no recourse to being helped out of those vulnerabilities. So the media are important. Again, it’s transparency. We’re a total open society, open age, a mass communication everybody is watching all the time. We not only need whistle blowers anymore. But we’ve got everybody watching, whether online, blogging, or they are in the news, traditional news media that I was once in, reporting. And does that raise the standard? Got to, you know when you see an Ernie Madoff. Was his first name Ernie?
Harrison: Bernard Madoff, how quickly we forget. Madoff, with that sort of egregious bad behavior, you wonder, where were the watchdogs? Why didn’t we see that earlier? And it just highlights that. We depend on the media. We depend on reporters and outside observers to let us know when somebody has stepped across the moral ethical line. And it’s a good story but newspaper reporter finds that somebody stepped over the line so that’s going to be, that’s going to be news. And that’s going to be impressive and effective.
Lee: And we’ve got another question in having to do with the new media. You mentioned the Internet and how that might be enhancing the watchdog role, or at least there are more eyes “watching,” if you will. Is that going to be a positive development or do you think it’s going to be a little more complex in terms of whether or not it’s going to enhance our ethical behavior?
Harrison: Is it going to enhance ethical behavior? Who knows and we can’t control it. I mean this thing is just the idea that anybody is a journalist. Citizen journalists means everybody has an opportunity to express himself or herself. Who knows what direction that’s going to lead in? I think more dialogue rather than less is better always. I think more exposure to individuals who are learning about how companies operate. What I see in blogging about going back and forth where comment A, comment B, C and whatever is kind of self correcting. You’ll have people who get into that process who are changing the way that the dialogue is going if they see it’s going in a in a wrong way. And the folks who lift it to a higher moral plane, and you can’t get away with just simply carping and without any substance added to it, so I would say it’s good but who knows where it’s going.
Interviewer: And finally, on the issue of ethics in general, do you believe that professional accreditation is necessary in order to guarantee ethical standards, or does it foster adherence to ethical standards? What’s your feeling on that?
Harrison: A – accreditation is a good thing. B – accreditation doesn’t guarantee anything in my opinion. Accreditation requires inquiry, research, looking into something, figuring out what the requirements are. What the standards are. And those standards are always set higher than the norm, that’s why they call them being accredited. And so accreditation is a good thing. Does it guarantee ethical behavior? Obviously no. But it does start to develop that mentality, that mindset of moral responsibility, of honesty and fairness, which I think finally defines equity and ethics.
Interviewer: I want to move the conversation a little bit to the topic of environmental communications, which is something you’ve been very active in for many years. And particularly get your view on the role of ethics and that particular type of public communication. It seems to me that going back over the years, environmental issues are going where talking more about the watchdog role that the practitioners of public communication have really had their feet held to the fire when it comes to that issue. Do you think that’s heightened that awareness of the ethical aspects of public communication when it comes to that issue?
Harrison: Yeah that’s an interesting question Lee, has greening as I call it and others do, influenced moral understanding, responsibility and ethics? I’d say yes, from the standpoint that greening has a social, very strong social impact. But it’s doing something else. This idea of greening, of environmental development, has made communicators more aware of the economic impact of environmental responsibility. It’s made those in the C suite more aware of the economic impact of environmental accountability. So I’ve come to understand that what we’re now calling corporate sustainability is the kind of new umbrella over all of this. I’ll get back to how this plugs back into ethical or honest, fair behavior. Corporate sustainability, an idea that was developed originally as a government policy statement back in the late 80s early 90s, now has, it seems to me, become a combination of economic/financial, social, and political accountability inside a company. By that I mean that a company looks at what is expected and now will be required with what’s happening in Capitol Hill and in the states with regard to climate change and energy efficiency and energy accountability. Those recognitions now are driving what we have to do in the social area, social realm. So environment, energy, climate change have now pushed us to the point where we need to get involved in the politics of all of this, and it is in that place that we now get back to the ethical, moral, social, accountability and performance. So it’s an influence, the idea of environmental, environmental work and environmental effort inside a company.
Interviewer: Where do you see it heading? One of the discussions that’s going on is that the conversation about greening has become so wide spread that it might be losing its meaning, or it might have peaked in the sense that the bubble is burst. Do you think that the ethical imperative of being environmentally conscious is becoming more down, or is it going to continue to drive corporate actions in the years ahead?
Harrison: Just remember here that we aren’t just talking about environmental responsibility. We are talking about energy, which is an economic as well as an environmental area. And that energy, the cost of energy, the supply of energy, the form of energy, and then what we do with the materials of energy, where if it’s war on carbon, we’re trying to cut back on carbon how we capture, sequester, whatever, get rid of carbon that’s taken out of the atmosphere then all those costs and all that technology and all that political and international negotiation activity is going to impact what we do, what we do here.
Interviewer: In terms of energy once again, you brought up the idea of an economic balance and I wanted to bring it back to another point you made earlier about the role of government in corporate behavior. Do you see the larger social issues and decisions that need to be made in the environmental area on energy on carbon as opening the door for more government involvement, and what is the role of the PR practitioner in helping to create a balance between government and private management of this issue?
Harrison: Yeah government is certainly pushing the envelope on this. In writing my book Corporate Greening 2.0, I had some help from my environmental team looking at companies and how they are positioning themselves on climate change and sustainability. And it seemed to us that we were finding a few strategies which are, which are responsive to your question and those strategies of companies are first, for the company to set some achievable but sometimes stretched goals for their own environmental and energy efficiency operations, to set their own goals. The second strategy seems to us is to engage others, that is to collaborate with others to achieve those goals, and this means not only working with suppliers such as Wal-Mart has done and influencing green suppliers internationally, but also collaborating with others outside who are stakeholders in the company, including environmental groups, social groups, investor groups, and others. And how this company rationalizes what it has to do to meet government requirements with what it must do in meeting its own economic or financial performance goals. So, third strategy if I am up to three strategies, is to be competitive and to beat the competition in this. This just kind of changes the game with regard to what the cost of products are. What the cost of materials are. It drives up the social acceptability requirements for some products whether you are doing a vehicle that doesn’t pollute or whether you are putting products out there that are said to be green. Packaged green. Packaged smaller whatever. So the government requirements impact all of those things. And at the same time communications, communication strategy has to be to position the company with its stakeholders so that it is always reassuring the stakeholders, creating the stakeholders. Peter Drucker once said that “What’s the number one job for company management corporate management?” Peter Drucker said it’s not to employ people. It’s not even to make a product. Or it’s not even to make a profit. Number one job is to create customers. Without customers none of the rest of it can happen. It seems to me the number one job of a company and its communications people is to create stakeholders create stakeholders in the success of the company, of the organization. You do that through fair dealing, honesty, transparency, accountability and strong financial performance.
Interviewer: Well part of your career as a counselor and correct me if I am misstating this, but it was to raise the awareness and to heighten the importance of environmental issues in the minds of leaders of industry. To help them understand how important it is to their image in the long term and how to protect themselves against coming trends in terms of legislation, in public opinion and position themselves for the future. Does that point to a, if you like to rephrase that that would be helpful.
Harrison: Yeah, but I don’t know that I’ve ever had to push that at all. I really feel as though my job as a consultant is to listen real hard to what the problem is and what the company is facing. And then try to interpret it in terms of what I know about what folks out here in government, in the community are expecting and requiring. And try to then come up with some initiatives and some ways of dealing with things including such things as, let’s form a team. Folks that you usually wouldn’t’ sit down with. Let’s talk with some folks outside as I did with a couple of companies facilitating a dialogue with those who should have a stake, and do have a stake in the company, and to work towards them, compromise, and amicable win-win decisions. Example of that is in the trucking industry, where some years ago government started to require the kinds of reduction in tailpipe emissions that just could not be achieved unless everybody got together, decided they ought to change the fuel that’s going into those vehicles, and I am talking about diesel. And so we put around the table some folks who had a stake in that. A good outcome there ended up—had a good outcome—taking it all the way to the Supreme Court to get the ruling on what sort of sulfur content it was in diesel fuel changed. So that’s the kind of thing, working with others and not pushing. It’s just trying to find out how you collaborate toward a reasonable win-win outcome.
Interviewer: One of the reasons I asked that, in your book you talked about a recent McKenzie and Company survey of corporate leaders, and they rank the economy, or rather the environment and not the economy, as the sustainability as you say, issues as the most important facing their companies, whereas public opinion still ranks the environment and global warming relatively low when you ask them about the most important issues. Do you think that C suite leaders and corporate leaders are ahead of the curve of this and understanding what’s going to be important in the years ahead?
Harrison: Yeah, well I you ask how C suite leaders take a position. They take a position because they understand that there’s an economic impact first on their company and there’s a social impact and there’s a political impact when something like climate change or global warming is out there. And as far as the public, they are looking out what do I have to pay for something, and is environmental concern they almost think is the same thing. Corporate people think of the economic impact. Consumers, customers, investors are thinking about economic impact. At the corporate level we realize we got to get ahead of the game here. Got to get ahead of the deal. Got to find out what our competitors are doing and suddenly greening is at the top of the agenda, or high on the agenda in the C suite, when it wasn’t before because now I got energy involved. I got the cost of what I have to have – the electricity, the power, plus what I put out there, what is my carbon footprint, something I never had to think about before, not required to think about before. And so that’s why it moved up in that McKenzie survey to very high, if not number one high on the agenda. While out here in the public, when you ask people how do you feel about buying green or not buying green, in their mind is how much is it going to cost me. You know because I’ll get it for free. I like the big box and not the little box whatever. Those decisions are out there and that’s changeable. That changes all the time.
Interviewer: It’s interesting that the common perspective may be that consumers are so in tuned and care so much about environmental green issues, and corporate executives don’t, but what these surveys show is it’s kind of the opposite, even though they are both looking about, they have to understand the economic impact of what’s going on. It’s interesting that the survey shows that in reality, corporate leaders may be more in tuned to environmental issues and impacting green sustainability issues, where as the public is more focused on economic issues first.
Harrison: Yeah, yeah, good example of that is the bill that is now on Capitol Hill, the Cap and Trade Bill that’s moving forward. Originally was called the Climate Change Bill and now it’s the Security Energy and Security Act. How companies came together with environmental groups to take a position early on, again, part of the positioning that we talk about in the book and the formation of the US Clean and Climate Action Partnership. US Cap, US Climate Action Partnership, involving companies such as Duke Energy and Dow Chemical and DuPont, and Florida Power and Light. And the environmental defense in RDC all sitting down, and okay, this thing is coming. What sort of commitments can we make? How much reduction in carbon emissions can we all agree on that will make sense? And those getting involved early, taking a stand, positioning the companies to be supportive of the right kind of regulation, in order to give the company some sort of certainty, more certainty about what they would have to comply with and what’s achievable. It does show a social consciousness, but also shows a political awareness that you haven’t seen to that extent before. Where people involved very early on, collaborating together toward getting the right kind of outcome and the bill that has emerged from the energy and commerce in the House reflects that input from the US Cap. It’s very close to what they said. Reduction in 2005 standards by 17 percent, by 2020 of carbon emissions, greenhouse gas emissions is very close to what the US Cap suggested.
Interviewer: Actually it is certainly great to see two sides coming together, which is necessary and the role of communications and public relations and in how they make that happen. I would like to ask you a few questions now about your career and your professional development of your career, and how it’s impacting your views on the practice. What would you say are some of the important enduring truths that you’ve learned during your career that have helped guide your practice?
Harrison: Great truths. One of the ones that I came to realize is that it’s better to assume that everybody knows everything all the time rather than assume I know more than they do and I have to tell them about it. The longer I practice public relations the more I learn to listen more than I talk. And if I just, what I tell my kids and what I’ve told employees, the first guys just listen. Listen to what the problem is, so the enduring truth is. Listen first, talk later. Figure out what it is, the concern is and how you can address it. Another enduring truth, if that’s what we’re looking for, is that you can’t do it by yourself. You need help, and every company knows that. Every communicator knows that. The idea is to try, to kind of create stakeholders, and my personal success – I do that through friendship listening to others. Folks like the Arthur Page Society, Arthur Page himself, reading books and trying to assimilate, how that’s relevant to me and what makes sense. And I grew up happy to say, proudly to say, grew up in a home where ethics, honesty, in a Christian home, formed some cultural, societal, capital appreciation that has endured for me, and will endure.
Interviewer: Speaking of mentors and people that have mentored you in your career who would you say is the most significant influence in your career?
Harrison: Who was the most significant influence on me as person? It just goes back, of course, your own family, to a teacher that I had in high school who thought he saw in me, a writer and encouraged me to write and that’s been the joy of my life, to be a writer. To a city editor of the Columbus Inquirer in Columbus, Georgia, who mentored me about writing, about digging a little deeper; a professor who used to be a reporter for the Kansas City Star, a professor at the University of Alabama, who said you got to get one thing right all the time and that is you got to spell things correctly, starting with people’s names. If I see you write something and something is misspelled, you got an F on that reporting assignment. Finally, really blessed within my own close, very close realm of having a brother with whom I was very close. He passed away last year, but my brother and I followed the same path, to try to figure how to succeed as an observer, a writer, a counselor in public relations. And my wife Patricia, who joined me in business for 25 years until we sold the firm, and who taught me far more about public relations and communications and presentation than I could possibly have known, and I am half the presenter that she is, that she is now. So those have been mentors. And you know friends in the Arthur Page Society. The Larry Fosters the Ed Blocks, the Bill Nielsens, Roger Boltons, Maril MacDonalds, on and on.
Interviewer: And as far as career what would you say are some of the accomplishments that you are most satisfied with?
Harrison: What are the accomplishments I am most satisfied with? I guess having survived this long. People ask me why are you writing another book? I said I want to stay alive, and to be able to do that, to write a book and get it out there, that’s a great accomplishment. I’ve done a couple of, three books. That feels good. I can see it on the shelf and it made me think. It made me keep learning. I think the biggest accomplishment is learning something new all the time in this business and in this life. It’s a constant learning process. You listen. You learn. You leverage what you learned into the next level of inquiry and performance. I’ve had there are specifics where the client has won and I feel like I have won, when Navistar, my client, International Truck and Engine Corporation, won as the first company to develop a low emission school bus, and got recognized by the Environmental Protection Association right here in Washington, and get the certification for that and have the EPA Administrator come out and say you guys did something we didn’t think could be done this quickly. Things like that feel really good or rewarding.
Interviewer: And what would you say has been the biggest challenge that you faced during your career?
Harrison: Yeah, challenge, biggest challenge is, I associate challenge with change, getting out of my comfort zone, getting it to the next thing that I know nothing about or very little about. Those are challenges. Is that a bad thing? No it’s a good thing to learn more, but that’s where I always start feeling, “Will I be able to do this? Can I achieve here? Can I add value when I am not sure what that is?” Times like that I just go back to what I’ve learned. Lessons learned and see how they might be applied here. And again, the challenge of being quiet, and listening, and learning enough so I can be part of part of an outcome.
Interviewer: I’d like to ask you a few more questions now about the industry in general, and how it’s changed over the last decades, and how it’s gotten to where it is today. Specifically, do you think that the counseling role of public relations is still as vigorous and important as it once was, or in your opinion is the role changing?
Harrison: Counseling? More important than ever, it’s grown. I see people in corporate PR who are counseling at a higher level than ever before, and they aren’t’ all just, they certainly are no longer just media people. And they are counseling on everything from politics, to economics, to social behavior, to production problems, to international problems, to trade issues, just a huge, larger gamut of responsibilities. So counseling inside companies has, as it seems to me, moved up the scale and I know there are those who say you got to get a set at the table or what not. Companies, I look at the table and it is large and we are there in various important and maybe new capacities. I see PR people moving into other areas, from HR to government relations, to investor responsibilities – greater than ever before.
Interviewer: Is some of the confusion over the role of the PR counselor due to the different and changing names that are applied to the function – counselor, communications officer, and marketing communications. Do you see any of that as making the role more difficult to define?
Harrison: Sure, it’s more difficult to define if we insist on a common label that we call everybody. Why has it happened? Because inside companies, being acceptable to the folks who make the ultimate decisions at the top about who is in these jobs, has changed our terminology. So therefore, a public relations person inside a company may be thought of in a different way than a corporate communications person. I personally, if I had my druthers, I would call them something else – “vice presidents of sustainable operations,” or something much bigger than the name “media relations” or “communications” or even “public relations.” Maybe it’s “stakeholder relations” we’re talking about.
Interviewer: Well what do you see as something that we in education can do to try and help prepare public relations professionals of the next generation? Do you see the people coming out with the skills necessary to act ethically and effectively in the positions that they will be going into?
Harrison: That’s a good tough question. Good question, the good questions are tough. You know I think schools are doing a great job whether it’s Penn State or Georgetown or GW, University of Maryland. I got to stop here because I am going to exclude some. But Barrett [Honors] College [at Arizona State University] they are doing a good job because you guys do understand what it is that corporate communications people, organizational communications people need to know to be successful. I have a tilt toward learning more history, learning more economics, learning more government policy. I am learning more international studies. Learning more culture influence. Things like Francis Fukuyama and what he teaches at Johns Hopkins about what it takes to build trust. And trust is built on understanding, social capital in various countries and various cultures. So understanding culture. Understanding behavior. I mean after all we are out to influence behavioral change and are we teaching that to corporate communicators? You tell me Lee.
Interviewer: Well it’s difficult. One of the hardest things to do is to change people’s behavior. We try and teach methods and ways to measure and evaluate your effectiveness in your in your attempts to do that. As well as some of the basic models for how that persuasion might come across and it’s certainly a challenge but I think the idea of broadening the curriculum to include economics.
Interviewer: Understanding culture, government policy, international relations [inaudible]
Harrision: I have this leaning toward business and business management. I mean, are you teaching Drucker management basics? Those are things that if you are heading toward corporate or not organizational, may be different, but the corporate business side. That’s what. Maybe you ought to ask them that. Where do you want to go when you graduate here? Are you going into business or are you going into something else? Business, you have to understand management, economics, accounting, financial affairs and how politics affects all of that.
Interviewer: Well, I think the final that I’d like to talk about [is the] overall role of ethics in the practice, and bring out a point you made in your book having to do with trust. The point you just brought up about the importance of building trust, and in your book. I will paraphrase here and correct me if I do it incorrectly that trust is more than just ethics, and more than just compliance. It’s a full set of communications efforts and tools that have to be employed. How do you think, ultimately, corporations can focus more in building trust and what are the main tools and activities I need to use in order to achieve it?
Harrison: Well, the way the companies can build trust is through fair dealings and honesty with stakeholders that matter. This doesn’t mean all stakeholders. I think a company, the first thing they have to do is kind of quantify who are the stakeholders that are a success and actually make a list of them and realize these are critical to us. If they are not with us, as Arthur Page says, in a society—a democratic society—if you don’t have public; he called it public. I’d say stakeholder support, then you don’t have permission to succeed. You don’t have permission to go ahead. So understanding that, that’s what we’re after, is to build trust, then it starts with folks having confidence that we will come through with what we said we’d come through with. That’s honesty, expressing a commitment, and then proving it by coming through. Again, back to my formula that over the long term a company has to show that it is financially accountable. That it is socially accountable and that it understands public policy and it is involved in that and will not be knocked over by competitors who are more involved in politics than they are. And trust comes from that; that is from delivery of what I thought you were going to give me. This was a deal. I, the stakeholder, the investor, the employee, the customer, the supplier, this is the deal I made with you and I’ll give you this which you need if you give me this which I need. And the customer is always evaluating that; the stakeholder is always evaluating that. Trust comes from that.
Interviewer: Well finally I just like to give you the opportunity to for any other observations you have on ethics and the commitment of the Page Center which is to foster integrity in public communications and any other programs or ideas or things that we should implement or emphasize that can make us more effective.
Harrison: I’d say the only in America could there be a Penn State Center or could there be a center like we now have at Penn State. I know of no other country that has such inquiry into what it takes to be successful, and ways the social, the economic, and the personal morality and equity as well as ethics of everybody concerned. So this is, this is the place to do it, so I am grateful for that, that we’re doing it here in America and that Penn State and others are engaged in this. I’m just looking ahead to what may be troubling to me, is that young people may not have the focus on some of the outcomes that our companies are engaged in, right now. They are going through a period now where there’s international conflict, there’s economic uncertainty. They are hearing from their parents and others that institutions are failing, that the mighty are falling and so what are we doing to young people in giving them what they need to have confidence that after all, democracy, capitalism, ethical enterprise, has a future for them. We don’t need all of them to go into government or go into social affairs. That would be a, that’s my concern right now. Thinking about my grandkids and kids.
Interviewer: Well certainly those are major concerns of the universities and of the Page Center moving forward and things that we’re going to be working on. Do you have any final thoughts or other points you’d like to talk about in terms of ethics? I think that we’ve covered a lot of ground and certainly I appreciate your time and your commitment to the Center by agreeing to be part of the oral history project.
Harrison: Well thank you, Lee.
Interviewer: We talked a lot about different ethical issues and that is the commitment of the Page Center at Penn State University to foster integrity in public communications. Do you have any observations about things that a program like ours should be emphasizing or implementing in order to achieve those objectives?
Harrison: First let me say that the Center at Penn State is terrific. It’s leading the way in the kinds of things that are needed right now. And I would place a lot of emphasis in the future on the values of this country and how they will how they will and can be sustained on the ultimate strength of business. Right now they are hearing a lot of our young people are hearing a lot of uncertainty. Jim Collins’ new book has just come out on how the mighty fall which leads some folks to think, I thought you said we’re going to have sustainability. We’re going to have the good becoming great. And we we’re going to have companies that would prevail. Enterprise will prevail. And working for companies will have a need for young people who understand history, politics, economics, and the American success story.
Interviewer: Well Bruce Harrison, thank you very much for taking the time to participate in the Page Center Oral History Project at the Penn State College of Communications. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Harrison: Thank you, Lee.