A friend sends me the following: Your recent post on the idea of the one-company, one-voice concept becoming more obsolete as a result of diversity and social media is very interesting. In a recent conversation my big boss portended that the very idea behind the definition of corporate communication is that a company must be able to project itself with one voice. If I understand her point, then the “one voice” concept is practiced in part, to protect the organization, its brand, and more importantly its reputation….
While I agree with this logic, I am at odds with the idea of the “one-voice” concept and how it is balanced with delivering two-way symmetrical communication.If building a dialogue between an organization and its public is an accepted definition of public relations, then how can PR ignore the diversity involved when communicating with publics- of course by diversity I mean speaking for, with, and in diversity.
Why can’t you have many-voices, more-ideas??? My instinct wants to embrace and engage diversity using communication, yet I feel compelled to cover the negative impact that can occur to organizations who fail to speak with one voice. It seems contradictory and so I wonder if the concept of one-company, one- voice is applicable only to the goal of corporate communication. If so, then I can see that there’s a greater need to speak with one voice internally. What is the balance??? And, the idea for a new model of practice is indeed very interesting, and certainly warrants further research.
And here goes my reply:
Your boss stands for what most professionals have been attempting to do (with little success, may I add) for tens of years… Of course, there is a lot of logic behind this argument, but one question is…
is it feasible?
We all know that not more than 10/15% of communicative behaviours of organizations may be in some way governed by a, however powerful, public relations department. The rest (product advertising, sales promotions, sales pitches, employees in the community, investor chatter, supplier tales and most other stakeholder relationships are governed (when this happens.. and this is, in itself, rare) by other functions inside the organization well beyond what the director of public relations might hope or wish. In London last month Dr. Jon White, the highly respected british authority on these issues, said: communication accounts for less than 15% of an organization’s reputation.
A second question is:
is it desirable?
IBM used to think so and was by far the most planned and programmed monolithic corporation. All IBMers would be recognizable, they dressed the same way, wore the same blue suits, the same blue ties, said the same things and voiced the same messages…. Then, Steve Jobs came along with a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and almost succeed in kicking them out of the market, until Lou Gerstner came on board and embraced diversity as the structural strategy (see the winter 2004 Harvard Business Review article on IBM and Diversity…very instructive). Another excellent case is that of Citigroup…unless this has recently changed, go and see their web site, access their diversity portal and read what they write about the one message one voice paradigm…
A final question:
how does you boss think she is going to cope with social media?……
There are, as you well say, many negative impacts which may stem from not speaking with one voice…this is certain, so you must acknowledge them as well as the practical impossibility of doing it any other way…
Summing it up, my friend, I am not sure that the one company one message/voice strategy was not the best possible pr strategy once, but I am doubtful if it is still viable. This is where the reflexive/educative aspects of the public relator’s strategic role come in. By listening to influential publics and enabling all organizational functions to develop their own relationship systems, the director of public relations brings the most added value to his/her organization. And this is clearly at odds with the old paradigm….