The Best Strategy is Not to Shut It Down, but Keep It Informed.
By Thomas J. Roach
The recent events in Egypt serve to remind us of the power of public opinion. In the aggregate industry public opinion brings to mind people living in close proximity to a quarry who band together to form a Not In My Back Yard group. They make emotional arguments at zoning meetings and perform endlessly for the news media. Like Egypt’s President Mubarak, we sometimes want to control public opinion and become frustrated when we cannot.
Historically, public opinion became a recognizable force when the power of divine right kings began to wane. Vox Populi, Vox Dei was the cry of those who advocated democratic systems of government. It is Latin for “The voice of the people is the voice of God.” Literally it meant that the reasoned consensus of the people could guide the government just as the Holy Spirit was to have guided the church.
All of the modern democracies are founded loosely on this belief. However, the framers of the U.S. Constitution also had a healthy fear of public opinion. While they believed that an informed, reasonable, engaged public opinion could lead a nation, they also believed that an uninformed, unreasonable tyranny of public opinion could destroy it.
Therefore they created a representative and not a true democracy. Our leaders are elected for two-, four-, or six-year terms to make them more or less sensitive to public opinion. A Congressperson with a two-year term is constantly running for office and must closely reflect public opinion in order to survive. A senator can afford to let his or her conscience and understanding of the law guide decisions and hope that at the end of a six-year term, the wisdom of an unpopular decision will have become apparent.
The disparity between the reasoning public and the mob suggests a methodology for managing public opinion. Since the mob and the reasoning public are potentially the same people, it is most advantageous for the community if its leaders encourage its citizens to engage in reasonable, cooperative behavior and discourage them from engaging in unreasonable, uncooperative behavior. This is mainly accomplished by demonstrating good will and by keeping communities informed of corporate intentions and decisions.
Good Will has a Price
The demonstration of good will has a price for the aggregate industry. It may mean paying for dubious broken glass claims, or in some locations it may mean rerouting truck traffic. Informing the community of the value and needs of the aggregate industry requires more time than money.
This is accomplished by having company representatives serve on boards and committees throughout the community and by participating in and sponsoring public events. Then when a zoning issue arises or when someone makes an unreasonable claim about the company, the reasonable, well-informed public will be more likely to form an opinion that takes into account the needs and the best intentions of the aggregate organization.
The opposite approach, the Mubarak approach, is to take advantage of the community at every opportunity, waste no money or time keeping them informed, and wait for them to symbolically if not literally surround your headquarters.
Egypt and its pyramids is home to the world’s oldest quarried stones and therefore home to some of the world’s oldest quarries. Consider that we are all one public, that the people in the street were exercising the same rights guaranteed U.S. citizens.
None of us was watching on television and hoping the army would fire on the crowd and drive them off. We were all hoping that the people in the street would prevail, and it was a victory for all of us when they did.
The best way to manage public opinion is not to try and shut it down, but to keep it informed and know that it will support what is best for the organization – if the organization supports what is best for the community.