TPPA: How corporates can bridge the gap between 'greed' and 'need'

TPPA: How corporates can bridge the gap between 'greed' and 'need'
Image: Hamish Anderson
One of the world's big news stories played out in Auckland today as the city played host to the signing of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) by Trade Ministers from the 12 participating countries.

While New Zealand government officials and the business community have generally sung TPPA’s praises, it’s also attracted significant opposition. As the signing ceremony took place, several thousand demonstrators have disrupted Auckland’s CBD, bringing the city’s transport hub, Britomart, to a standstill, and reportedly even trying to blockade the Harbour Bridge.

Walking amongst the demonstration this afternoon, its clear that protestors are positioning the TPPA as yet another opportunity for multi-national corporates to exert their powers over the rights of the people or, as one protest banner succinctly put it, “greed over need”.

While global trade agreements like the TPPA will always attract a level of media-friendly criticism and protests, it’s natural to ask whether the corporate world needs to do a better job of selling both these deals and themselves to the public.

One way in which big brands and corporates are beginning to do this, especially in the US, is known as values-based activism.

This involves taking a stand on sometimes divisive political and social issues – the recent Confederate flag debate in the US, for example, saw a myriad of companies including Nascar, Boeing, BMW and Michelin rally around South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley after she ordered the flag to be removed from public buildings, while Amazon, Walmart and eBay removed Confederate flag merchandise from sale.

Corporates have also weighed in on issues such as immigration and same-sex marriage. But why risk alienating millions of potential customers who hold opposing political views?

Maybe it’s because, as one South Carolina leader said, organisations need to disregard potential negative business impact because “it's the right thing to do.”

Regardless of the motivation, one thing has clearly emerged - brands can have tremendous influence when they put their weight behind these issues.

As a result, every communications professional should be on top of values-based activity and understand what it can do for our clients. We need to ask:

  • What does the company stand for?
  • What are our most deeply held beliefs?
  • How are these values expressed?
  • What issues do we want to lead on?
  • What issues do we oppose?
  • Do these values reflect the values of our customers and communities?
  • What happens when our values alienate some potential customers?
  • How do we communicate with them?

The answers to these questions have far-reaching implications for branding, corporate social responsibility initiatives, social media, employee communications and more. Who knows, maybe PR can make the world a better place?