Daily News: April 18, 2012

GE Promotes Its Positive Impact Amidst Criticism


General Electric is working to defend its reputation with a recently launched campaign that highlights the company’s altruism and positive impact on its communities.

Media reports from last year indicated that the company earned $14.2 billion in profits in 2010, but paid nothing in taxes because the bulk of those profits were earned offshore. As recently as April 3 of this year, protesters rallied in front of the company’s Fairfield, CT, headquarters.

“People today, in a digital networked world, will take your [company’s] culture and slice and dice it so that you don’t even recognize it, and if you don’t stand up for the culture and put it on display for people, they are going to win,” Gary Sheffer, VP of communications and public affairs at GE, said at the National Summit on Strategic Communications on Monday. ExL Events and Grupp Global Partners hosted the event.

Sheffer insisted that the company does indeed pay taxes, but noted that getting its side of the story out has been difficult as it tries to simplify complex tax laws when defending itself. The situation is even more sticky because some members of the media have accused the company of not paying taxes and laying off thousands in the U.S. at the same time, which Sheffer said is another misrepresentation of the truth. For instance, when the company sold its majority stake of NBC Universal to Comcast, jobs were transferred, not eliminated.

However, there have been times reporters haven’t wanted to hear this context, Sheffer said. He recalled that one journalist told him “you’re not entitled to a charitable interpretation of the facts” last week.

GE recently launched a campaign that it developed for two years shining a light on the altruistic aspects of the company’s culture and the positive impact GE has on the cities in which it has facilities. It is working with Edelman on the PR components of the “GE Works” campaign.

The effort has digital, media outreach, and event components. The company is highlighting new hiring and education initiatives, such as its plans to open several manufacturing skill building centers called “GE Garages.”

It also partnered with GOOD/Corps on the “What Works Project,” an interactive platform that invites the public to submit stories, images, or video descriptions of what is driving American competitiveness. The project will award up to $10,000 each week through November to selected non-profits that support American jobs and skills training.

To create the “GE Works” slogan, the company hired a cultural anthropologist who surveyed hundreds of employees around the world to get a sense of what is important to them.

“It couldn’t just be a brand exercise. It had to really get at the culture at the company,” Sheffer said, adding that ultimately it found focusing on the bottom line wouldn’t be enough to motivate staffers. “They wanted to be part of something bigger; there had to be a purpose to what they were doing.”