From 2003 to 2007 the reputation of corporate America remained steady. It was bad, but steady. Seven citizens in 10 called corporations either “not good” or “terrible.” Then things got worse. A 2008 Harris Interactive survey of 20,000 Americans found that eight in 10 gave failing grades to corporations.
“That’s one reason why there has rarely been a more important time to study integrity issues in corporate communications,” said John Nichols, director of the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication in the College of Communications at Penn State.
The Page Center, founded in 2004, has awarded $287,000 in grants to researchers to examine integrity in communication. Scholars have looked at codes of ethics and mission statements, corporate behavior, crisis communications, corporate social responsibility, and business ethics curriculum.
They have studied ethics in decision making, children and media, journalism, sports, moral development, and video news releases. They are probing environmental, health and shareholder communication, non-profit organizations, product placement, governmental affairs, public opinion, social marketing and diversity issues.
“The result is a growing and useful repository of knowledge into integrity in public communication,” said Nichols. “The Page Center is a resource for scholars and communications practitioners alike.”
That’s what the founders wanted. The Page Center was created by three senior executives who were past leaders of the Arthur W. Page Society, a by-invitation-only organization for senior public relations and corporate communications leaders. The founders are Edward M. Block, retired senior vice president for AT&T, Lawrence G. Foster, retired corporate vice president for Johnson & Johnson, and John A. Koten, retired senior vice president for Ameritech.
“Our goal was to assure that future generations of scholars and students -- tomorrow’s leaders -- were inspired to make responsible decisions in communications with their key publics,” said Foster, a distinguished alumnus of Penn State.
Page Society trustees endorsed the formation of the Page Center and the president of the Page Society serves on the Page Center Advisory Board. The society and the center are separate entities, however.
Foster, internationally acclaimed for his guidance of Johnson & Johnson communications during the Tylenol tampering cases of the 1980s, made a leadership gift to establish the Page Center. The Johnson family foundations and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also have given significant support. Robert Wood Johnson was the long-time chairman of Johnson & Johnson, the family business that he built into the largest health and medical product company. Other contributions have come from former colleagues of Johnson and from the AT&T Foundation on behalf of Arthur W. Page.
The center is named for the man who is considered the world’s pioneer in corporate public relations. Arthur W. Page joined AT&T in 1924 and became widely known for setting high standards for ethical communication. His views have been distilled into the Page principles: Tell the truth; prove it with action; listen to the customer; manage for the long term; and a company’s true character is expressed by its people.
The legacy of Johnson also is a vital part of the Page Center. Like Page, General Johnson was a strong and visible advocate of responsible corporate behavior. In 1945 he wrote a one-page credo that Johnson & Johnson follows to this day. It establishes that the firm’s first responsibility is to “…the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.” The credo lists responsibilities to others in descending order. Last on the list are stockholders. Johnson, however, noted at the end of his credo, “when we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realize a fair return.”
“The ethical standards that Page and Johnson communicated were strikingly similar,” said Foster, who worked closely with johnson and is his biographer. “That’s why the two men’s philosophies are embodied in the goals and programs of the Page Center.”
It’s also why recipients of Page Center grants are known as Page/Johnson Legacy Scholars.
In addition to research, the Page Center features an oral history collection of two dozen prominent people from the corporate communications field. More histories are planned. The Web site, http://pagecenter.comm.psu.edu/, also features the Page Press Center, a database for journalists to find experts on topics within the field of integrity in public communication.
Penn State’s College of Communications has provided a home for the Page Center on the ground floor of Carnegie Building on campus. The spacious facility, finished in rich wood paneling, includes a restoration of Arthur Page’s office including the desk he used at AT&T. Also found there are Page’s previously uncollected papers and memorabilia. The Robert Wood Johnson Seminar Room displays General Johnson’s credo and is used for Page Center programs and communications seminars.
“The Page Center already is having a significant impact on communications scholarship,” said Nichols. “It is becoming a prestigious thing to be a Page/Johnson Legacy Scholar. We’re confident that the Page Center is turning into just what its founders hoped it would be.”