After many years of publishing reports critiquing corporate behavior that increases economic inequality, I’m well familiar with the PR response playbook.
First, the corporate spokespeople go on offense, charging that your report is “bogus” or “completely inaccurate” – without pointing out specific inaccuracies. This can be effective in intimidating journalists who are considering covering the report but may not have time to check every number in it.
Then they raise questions about your funding. That usually provokes a few chuckles among us employees of nonprofit organizations that operate on budgets which would be considered de minimis in the corporate world.
Then they pivot to their role as the protector of everything that is good about America.
I saw this playbook deployed against Corporate Accountability International this week, in response to their new congressional scorecard on one of the most powerful DC corporate lobby groups–the National Restaurant Association.
The report uses publicly available information on the restaurant association’s policy agenda, including their opposition to various worker and consumer protection reforms, such as increasing the minimum wage, paid sick leave, and GMO labeling. It then looks at the lobby group’s campaign contributions, pointing out that members of Congress who have received large sums have (surprise, surprise!) voted in line with the NRA’s agenda.
Christin Fernandez, a spokeswoman for the restaurant association, demonstrated her mastery of the PR playbook in her response to Politico:
“This report is funded by ROC [Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a worker advocacy organization] which has continuously used backdoor tactics, bogus reports and well-funded publicity stunts to disrupt public order and disparage America’s restaurants. This is no exception. Today, they are shamefully attacking small business owners who have achieved the American Dream and are giving back to their communities in countless ways.”
In three short sentences, Fernandez managed to insinuate that the report was “bogus,” accused the research group of taking money from ROC to pay for the report, and then waxed poetic about small businesses and the American Dream.
Never mind that the NRA didn’t point to a single factual inaccuracy in the report. Never mind that the charge about funding is utterly false, according to the bemused author of the Corporate Accountability International report. And never mind that the big players in the NRA are some of the world’s largest corporations, including McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Marriott, Darden, and Walt Disney.
You’ll also notice there was no attempt to defend the National Restaurant Association’s legislative agenda.
And by the way, while I was viewing this article on Politico’s web site, the National Restaurant Association advertisement below was running as a banner on the top of the page.
Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.