How do we keep business on this comeback trail? Public relations will play a critical role in the process. How do PR professionals help business remain trusted?
We listen and understand the impact of policies on all stakeholders. We need to keep our clients focused on the stakeholder, not the shareholder model (…). A new level of transparency is expected from companies, asking for input from enthusiastic consumers and informing communities about the rationale for a new power plant before going to government for approval. Respect for employees is the “new green” (…) with continued communication on performance and purpose a necessity. We should not allow ideologues to stigmatize these new corporate initiatives as “just PR” because we are, in fact, changing the face of business so that it can succeed in the 21st century. We are helping to provide the license to operate by letting business again be trusted to do what is right. I disagree with the UK’s Daily Telegraph article this morning by Jeff Randall who says “You cannot PR your way to a sustainable reputation. Those who think they can are confusing form and substance; they are doomed to fail.” The best PR is about substance, communicated well to all shareholders. (oops…a little slip here: I believe he means stakeholders…)
This quote is from Richard Edelman’s blog most recent entry and is worth importing in this post which has to do with what will happen in Cape Town (South Africa) in a few days when hundreds of professionals and scholars from all over the world will convene and participate to the 4th World Public Relations Festival which, this year, is dedicated to the theme: Communicating for Sustainability
The event, from May 12 to 15, is organized by the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management and by Prisa, the south african professional association….
You can browse through the program and see many interesting moments ahead and, as I plan to be there (and also co-blogger Joao Duarte will join us), at least the two of us will post our reciprocal takeaways.
I would like however, also picking up on Richards quote above, to establish a correlation between the two, in my view, quite different concepts of communicating for sustainability (the theme of the Festival), and sustainable communication (a recurring theme of this blog) and see if there is merit for further conversation.
In the best of all worlds I would say that communication for sustainability happens when an organization (private, public, social) decides that sustainability is a value which needs to be communicated with its influential publics.
By sustainability I intend a voluntary feature (i.e. going beyond hard and soft legal requirements) which the leadership of an organization decides to integrate in its performances (i.e. products and services, activities, functions, behaviours) in order to ensure (…or, at least, to perceivably attempt to ensure) the short, medium and long term satisfaction of its stakeholders while reducing to the minimum undesired (by the stakeholders) collateral effects.
With sustainable communication , instead, I mean that the communication function of any organization needs to ensure that all communicative behaviours of the organization be, in themselves, sustainable i.e. respond to the above definition of sustainability, and this of course applies not only to the activities of the communication function but to all other communication based activities which other functions of the organization perform with their respective stakeholders.
Now Richard writs that ‘pr helps business remain trusted by listening and understanding the impact of policies on stakeholders’. I very much appreciate that he does not limit our role to listening, but also to understanding (which is very relevant)….the impact of policies on stakeholders.
I would also add, after having understood what one has listened, the role of interpreting stakeholder expectations to organizational leadership, so that it may improve the quality of its decisions and accelerate their time of implementation (as I have maybe too often expressed in this blog).
The implication is that by limiting oneself to just listening to and understanding the impact of policies on stakeholders we are very close to the marketing model (scientific persuasion style) which listens mostly to improve the organization’s chances of success by improving its communication, and not by changing its own decisions before deciding to communicate them ( the fundamental difference between marketing and change or, as many prefer, transformation management).
If I interpret correctly, even before approaching the conceptualization of the stakeholder relationship management model which has become so embedded with social media, as Richard has neatly and clearly repeated to (and convinced) us over these recent years, in this case we still need to transit by the two way symmetrical model, which assumes that listening to publics (or stakeholders) benefits the organization’s processes so that both parties may benefit from the developing relationship.
Am I misrepresenting?
The question is of course relevant: if we are to assume as correct my interpretation of Richard’s position expressed in this post, then communicating for sustainability gives for granted that communication is by itself sustainable, while if this ain’t-necessarily-so (i.e. an organization communicates the value of sustainability but often adopting many unsustainable forms of communicative behaviour) then we are simply back to the scientific persuasion model.
Any sense in this argument?