The gist: For decades, many progressive communicators have used the term “big business” as shorthand for an ethos of greed, recklessness, irresponsibility, and undue political influence. It’s been an enduring and effective frame: a simple and memorable phrase that conjures up a well-established villain.

Yet using the term “big business” as an unqualified negative reinforces a false dichotomy between business on the one hand, and progress on the other.

The task for progressive communicators is to identify powerful language that evokes the negatives behind the “big business” frame, without reinforcing the (false) idea that all business is bad business.

Sightline recommends avoiding the term “big business” as an unqualified negative moniker. Instead, progressive communicators can:

  • Use language that emphasizes the real enemies of progress (e.g., reckless business practices, undeserved corporate influence in elections and policy).
  • Reference specific bad actors in the business community (Big Oil) rather than business as a whole.
  • Underscore positive, community-minded business values (responsibility, honesty, playing by the rules).

Click here for Sightline’s messaging memo>>

Who Said It?

Icon of person and question mark“We cannot allow this government—that is a model around the world, that inspires people to risk their lives and fortunes to come to our shores—we cannot allow any element of this government to become the tool of corporate power, the avenue of corporate influence, the puppet of corporate tentacles.” — United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse  Read more of his June, 2010, speech on the Senate floor>>

September 1, 2010