|The Bitter Truth - Commercial Speech and Public Relations|
Signs are positive that corporations will continue run a transparent look into their operations by publishing annual "social reports."
Survey Provides Hope for Public Debate
Although it appears rather dark and hopeless for the future of open public forums in the marketplace, a recent survey may prove otherwise. According to a survey conducted in late 2003 by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), most companies will still continue the practice of openly disclosing its social business practices.
The survey found that through special annual “social reports,” companies will increase their efforts to emphasize their ethical codes and corporate governance as part of being more socially and environmentally responsible (Bess, 2003).
The trend of social reporting
Social reports, sometimes called “public reports” or “sustainable development reports” are issued regularly by many companies around the world. The European Union is even considering making such reports mandatory for all corporations.
Given the recent Nike outcome, social responsibility experts speculated that this type of optional reporting would be curtailed. But contrary to these fears, nearly all of the companies surveyed indicated they will continue to issue these reports. In fact, some companies claimed they plan to increase the amount of information contained in their reports (Bess, 2003).
Significant hope for maintaining corporate transparency in litigious happy America.
Reed Bolton Byrum, president and CEO of the PRSA noted the positive upside to the survey's results. “This is a time when rebuilding trust in business is critically important, so we are urging - and will work to implement - maximum two-way communications between companies and all of their publics.”
The future will most certainly see further cases testing the definition of commercial speech. It is necessary and inevitable. And the Supreme Court just may find itself in the same situation, except this time feeling the pressure to set some clear precedent for future cases.
In the Nike case, the justices felt it just wasn't time to jump into the chaotic topic of commercial speech. There was even a hint of rhetoric in their opinion for dismissal, generating a subtle wink and nod to Nike with the catch line of “come see us after you lose this case at a lower level and we'll see what we can do.” But Nike settled out of court instead.
Whatever the future outcome, any clearer definition will help both sides in having a solid understanding of the line between advertising and commentary, and they can then adapt the best messages for each medium.
Until then, companies will be wary of the free-lance censors lying in wait in California, and preparing for the next big public battle.