Thursday, December 18, 2008, 3:53 PM

A call to action for 2009

Two recent commentaries drive home for me the need - and the obligation - of large companies to communicate aggressively in the coming year, as the country adjusts to new leadership in Washington and continued economic anxiety. One commentary is a call to action. The other is leadership in action.

First, the call to action: Johnson & Johnson's General Counsel, Russell Deyo, urges CEOs to speak out publicly on their companies' contributions to the economy in uncertain times. In his interview with The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel, Deyo states,

"Only by understanding the extent of those contributions can there be an appreciation by the public and the new [Obama] administration of the important role that corporations can and will play in the recovery. As the new administration formulates its economic policies, doing so against a backdrop of public distrust of business would discourage government from realizing the vital contributions that corporations can make and may, in fact, encourage governmental actions that could hamper that assistance."

Next, leadership in action: GlaxoSmithKline's Jean Stephenne puts Mr. Deyo's words into action. He penned this op-ed in The Wall Street Journal reminding the public of the virtues of his company's work. Not only does he paint a compelling portrait of GSK's malaria vaccine candidate and the lives it could save, but he also outlines the company's efforts to keep the potential drug accessible to vulnerable populations in Africa and elsewhere. In doing so, he addresses the perception that pricing often drives medicine out of reach for the poorest populations. Note Stephenne's use of the phrase "Yes, we can" - a familiar refrain of President-elect Obama's. Stephenne knows his audience - an essential trait of any good communicator.

A reader may think Deyo and Stephenne are stating the obvious, but as a communications advisor, I'm a big believer in stating the obvious. How else does the public know what an organization stands for? If we don't communicate our mission and our values, we shouldn't expect the press and the public to give us the benefit of the doubt.

So, one company has issued the call to action for 2009. Another is leading by example. Will you follow?

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