I have been struggling in these last weeks with a communication problem.
I just cannot seem to clearly explain to my professional peers as well as to my better students, the fundamental and conceptual difference between the practice of communicating corporate(social) responsibility and the need for organizations to ensure that all their communicative behaviours be (socially) responsible…
…The first reaction I receive is an eyewink indicating something like ‘here is this sophist again’, in Italy they say : cerchi sempre il pelo nell’uovo (you are always searching for the hair in the egg).
Let me elaborate:
– since many years now the public relations profession has developed a practice which specifically has to do with communicating social responsibility programs that organizations develop in order to improve, in the best of circumstances, their relationships with influential publics. In some (many) cases public relators are not only entrusted with the communication of this program, but also with its creation and operative implementation.
Many discussions are going on about the role of public relations in c(s)r arena, and we are well aware of them. In my view, the public relations function should not be in charge of developing a c(s)r program but only of its communication. But this is my view, and I fully respect others.
It is however very ironic to read that Michael Porter, while disregarding traditional c(s)r as ‘public relations’ , in fact conceptualizes what he defines as strategic c(s)r by using the same approach, paradigms and descriptions which have been adopted in the last twenty years by the better scholars of -guess who?…-public relations, substantially overlapping his elaboration of effective strategic c(s)r with what others have simply defined as effective public relations.
– as the complexities of organizations increase, a systemic and relational approach is mandatory. Every single function in an organization relates directly with its stakeholders and, however potent, no central communication department can hope to manage more than 10/20% of an organization’s communicative behaviours.
This implies that someone in the organization needs to ensure that all those behaviours be consistent and sustainable. It is a frequent case that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.
Specifically, that while the communication function might well need to implement sustainable and consistent policies because of the immediate visibility of its activities, the marketing or purchasing or human resource or production functions discover they communicate inconsistently and with questionable approaches, contents, tools and channels.
One typical example is that of some mobile companies who, on one hand, implement and communicate sophisticated and admirable sustainable development projects, while -on the other hand- their commercial advertising function around the corner prepares its annual plan by including from the beginning a sum to pay for fines they expect to receive from antitrust authorities or other sanctioning bodies for what they consider a given: i.e. deceptive messages to consumers or unfair competition.
As one can see, the issue of (socially) responsible communicative behaviours of an organization has nothing to do with its corporate (social) responsibility policies, except for the fact that when an organization, in any of its communicative behaviours, adopts irresponsible practices it damages its own reputation and therefore also weakens the communication of its c(s)r program.
Do you find this clear?
Can you suggest other more understandable arguments to better explain this fundamental distinction?
I say fundamental because it truly opens a vast open highway for us professional public relators to argue that we must be gifted (with appropriate skills and resources) to monitor (but by no means control…) all communicative behaviours of the organization, which -in turn- speaks for the need to add a fourth bottom line to our sustainability reporting practice: that of communicative behaviours.