Public relations as an evolutionary discipline has a major flaw: nailing a definition can become an arduous feat and therefore, professional expectations of communications can be misguided.
Having just described a board-level changing decision led by a communications recommendation, the guy I was speaking with at a networking event responded “And you still call this PR?”
Perceptions of public relations vary from scantily clad club representatives handing out leaflets to university freshers, and the world I live-and-breath each day; protecting and improving the reputations of corporate brands. As a discipline, public relations must be evolutionary, as the way people communicate with each other constantly changes.
One of the standout observations about the impact of social media on corporates came from a past lecturer of mine, David Phillips. Social media has led organisations to become porous, it doesn’t take much for confidential information to appear on social media. At the time I took this quite logically, employees communicating in public places online or a hack leading to information becoming downloadable by all.
It’s much more.
Social media has led brands to become fully transparent. We’re beyond porosity and are instead faced with a giant wall of glass. Through it every decision and action by organisations can be questioned. If we’re sceptical about motivations, we’re able to see how employees react and point the finger in a public forum (online or in the real world).
Believe me, corporates are feeling the pressure. Last year FN London reported that Blackrock and Amundi had been singled out over climate-data concerns. Specifically, there is a
‘… disconnect between what these companies want for investors in their portfolios and what they are doing as companies”.David Ricketts, FN London
Essentially all stakeholders and journalists are investigating evidential points behind public sentiments towards Sustainable Development Goal alignment, Environmental Social Governmental (ESG) measures, and so on. For example, if you’re going to evangelise ESG as a standard, make sure that your own house is in order.
Apple CEO, Tim Cook, sat pale-faced in the BAFTA audience as Comedian, Ricky Gervais, called out Apple’s alleged connection with sweatshops. If you haven’t seen it already, watch the clip.
It’s another example of a disconnection between WHAT a company does and WHY they exist.
All organisations sell products or deliver services. Very few understand why they exist, beyond the balance sheet. Identifying your organisation’s purpose is about identifying that single-minded mission of what you’re attempting to achieve. Why should your employees turn up to work? Why should your customers choose you? What other values should your investors be aware of?
We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.Simon Sinek in ‘Start with Why’
A purpose driven business invests in more than just shareholder value, but shared value; with employees and external stakeholders.
Purpose grants you with a license to operate, in a world that will always approach your brand as a sceptic first. Purpose-led communications is the driving force that has shifted public relations from the office floor to the boardroom.