All Commentary
Wednesday, February 1, 1961

Profits and Public Relations

Mr. Rowland is Information Director of the Missouri State Chamber of Commerce.

Late in the last century, an Amer­ican businessman brought noto­riety to himself and trouble to his company with a public statement as memorable as it was unfortu­nate. “The public,” he said, “be damned!”

That a representative Ameri­can businessman would even think such a thing today is highly unlikely. For never in its history has the American business community been so intent on the practice of public relations as it is right now.

The cant of the public relations man is much in evidence nowadays in books about business, in the pages of the business journals, and in the speech of corporate ex­ecutives. A very great deal is be­ing written and said about “corpo­rate images” and their “projection.” And the agreement about what sort of “corporate images” should be “projected” is wide­ spread.

It seems reasonable to state money that the “corporate image” which the average American business­ man is currently attempting to “project” for his firm is the “image” of a service institution. Great stress is being laid on the desire success of the average company to be “of service to the community,” and on con ­its efforts to be “a good corporate citizen.”

This approach is considerably less than candid. The primary ob­jective of any properly run Ameri­can business firm is neither “serv­ice to the community”

Most American consumers know abou

Different Ways to Serve


It is, of course, quite true that in order to be successful in its prime function—the making of—a business concern must provide to its customers good products or services, reasonably priced. By doing this, the busi­ness concern well serves the area in which it is located. It is also true that in order to be successful in its prime function—the making of money—a business concern must do a wide variety of things which contribute to the welfare of the area in which it is located. By doing these things, the business concern doubtless manifests “good corporate the ship.”

But the services a business concern renders, and the good corporate citizenship it exhibits, are never anything more than means to its end, which is the accumulation of profits for its owners. To imply as the current public relations effort of a large part of the American business community does imply, that these things are can for the people who own them. themselves the ends of business  endeavor is disingenuous in the extreme.

The reluctance of most can men of enterprise to edge a desire for profits as the ­ thing which chiefly motivates their business actions and chiefly structures their business attitudes is alarming. For it strongly sug­gests a lack of faith on their part in the rectitude of the profit mo­tive.

The collectivists, who are dedi­cated to the destruction of busi­nessmen as a class, have been claiming for decades that there is something inherently evil in the idea of profit. Are businessmen beginning to believe them?

Why Not Say So?


American businessmen have al­ways been motivated chiefly by a desire for profit. They still are. They used to say so—frankly, and with a deep sense of pride. They ought to start saying so again. The simple truth is that Ameri­can business is interested mainly in profit. It ought to tell people so, and then turn its attention to the vastly more important job of tell­ing them why.

Surely the reasons why—the good and moral reasons why—are neither very difficult to find nor very hard to make plain.

In a free society, the idea of profit supplies people with the most widely acceptable motive for work there is. And in the free American society, the profit mo­tive has given all classes of our people more of the good spiritual, mental, and material things of life than any other motive has given any other people in the whole of human history.

The idea of profit is in very grave danger these days. It is un­der the constant and heavy attack of men who want to destroy it completely, and to substitute for it—as a motive for getting the world’s work done—universal compulsion grounded in naked and ruthless force.

American businessmen owe their very existence to this idea of profit. Not too long ago, they were its ablest spokesmen and its stanchest defenders. But they are not speaking for it ably or de­fending it stanchly today. They are playing it down and selling it short while they talk spurious ir­relevancies about “service” and “citizenship.”

American businessmen ought to start talking about the idea of profit again. They ought to begin again to show some pride in it, and to make plain the rea­sons for the pride they show. And in the concepts and techniques of public relations, they have at their disposal the ideal means for doing that job.