In the court of public opinion, at least, companies are guilty until proven innocent.
That’s the conclusion to be drawn from a new survey, conducted by Opinion Research Corporation on behalf of GCI Group. More than half the respondents to the survey said that if a company is being investigated by a government agency it is probably guilty of some wrongdoing. The study found that 56 percent also agreed that a company is probably guilty of some wrongdoing if a lawsuit is filed against it.
According to Jim Cox, who heads GCI’s new litigation communications group, the survey means first that government agencies have a powerful bully pulpit from which to attack corporations and second that business does not enjoy a high level of trust and credibility.
“This new ORC study illustrates the inordinate public opinion power of the ‘bully pulpit’ of government agencies like the Justice Department, the SEC, the FTC or the attorneys general at the state level,” said Cox. “Even with routine litigation, a large company today is facing an uphill battle in trying to prove its innocence and in finding an objective forum to defend itself against charges of impropriety,” added Cox.
Cox pointed out that only one-third of the public responded favorably when asked whether they would trust statements made by a large company, and two-thirds agreed that “business people will do anything they can to make a profit, even if it means ignoring the public’s interests.”
“This stuy provides vivid and shocking data about a fundamental distrust of large companies, and it illustrates the magnitude of the challenge for any company trying to defend its reputation in the public arena,” said Cox.  “What is clear from the ORC data is that companies must move vigorously and proactively to defend their good name early when charges are raised in a government investigation or lawsuit. 
“A company cannot afford to believe that the potential for damages are only in a court of law.  Litigation and legal issues can create serious collateral damage for a company and the marketplace power of its corporate brand.”