Finding a different perspective on the Sydney Opera House isn’t easy – it must be one of the most photographed buildings in the world.
Canon EOS 7D, EF-S 10-22 at 11mm. 1/640 sec at f/22 and ISO 200. Black and white conversion in Lightroom
Finding a different perspective on the Sydney Opera House isn't easy - it must be one of the most photographed buildings in the world. Canon EO...
Chatting to a friend the other day about the evolving role of social media in corporate communications, I was reminded of John Godfrey Saxe's poem...
An interesting article on the Guardian Sustainable Business blog asks what would happen if PR were employed to play a more active role in building tru...
Why are we still having the measurement conversation? Jeanette Winterson said "There is no such thing as measurement absolute, there is only me...
An interesting article on the Guardian Sustainable Business blog asks what would happen if PR were employed to play a more active role in building trust and effecting change. The author cites criticism of PR as a vehicle primarily concerned with “managing reputation or winning favour for past acts of philanthropy” and suggests that the discipline could instead play a more dynamic role “as an agent for change rather than to gloss up reputations.”
Which leaves me to wonder why so many practitioners seem to overlook the fact that public relations has always been as much about advising an organisation on what to do as it is about helping decide what to say. When we focus only on what is going out and not on what is going on then we do our clients and their audiences a disservice.
This is famously true of sustainability communications, hence the direction of the article. However I think it points to a deeper issue facing the way we perceive the role of communications in an organisation. Simply put, as a discipline we too often spend more time thinking about the rhetoric than the reality.
We see this all the time in the development of key message documents and other narrative materials, where we constantly think about what we want to say. But effective communication does not revolve around what is said, but what is received. Communication that does not put the needs and expectations of the audience first is so much hot air.
As PR practitioners, our role should be to help organisations view their actions from the other side of the table. The questions we should be asking are simple but effective in focussing attention on the behaviours needed to build trust;
Who are the audiences that drive our business? Scatter-gun communication is an ineffective way of building trust-based relationships. Instead we need to be a lot more exclusive in targeting our messages. There is an increasing expectation that communication will be personal and relevant to the individuals the organisation is trying to reach. And now more than ever we have the tools to meet those expectations.
What are the expectations or motivators of those audiences? If we don’t understand what drives our audiences to think or act as they do then we can never persuade them to think or act differently. The irony is that much of this insight often exists within the organisation – market research reports, customer profiles, CRM data etc. – but the information is not always shared with the PR function. And even more rarely shared with an outside agency.
Also the listening function is often overlooked as a key strategic tool. Conversations that once took place over dinner or in bars are now being broadcast globally, but it’s surprising how many organisations restrict conversation monitoring to the traditional media. If we don’t know what people are saying about us then how can we communicate effectively with them?
What is the organisation doing today that meets those expectations? This is where messaging should start. One of my mentors once defined communications strategy as “a conscious decision to emphasise one thing over another” and this question helps define what we should be emphasising. The primary role of external public relations is to ensure that audiences receive the information they need to help them make informed decisions about the organisation. That means backing up assertions with independently verifiable fact and making sure that information is relevant to the specific audiences we are trying to reach.
What else should the organisation be doing to better meet those expectations? This is the part that is too often overlooked by PR practitioners but is arguably the most important element in building trust. Trusted organisations are responsive to the needs of their stakeholders. A client that I worked with a few years ago told me “We don’t do sustainability because it makes good commercial sense – it doesn’t. At best our sustainability initiatives are cost neutral. We do it because there is an expectation among our customers that we will be a sustainable company and they will punish us if we don’t meet those expectations.” The primary role of internal public relations is to ensure that the organisation understands the expectations of its stakeholders and what it needs to do to meet them.
In short, the responsibility of the PR practitioner is twofold: to represent the interests of the organisation before its stakeholders and to represent the interests of the stakeholders before the organisation. Too often we focus more attention on the former rather than the latter.
Arguably, the reverse should be the case.
The 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer contains some useful insights for emerging multinational companies and suggests an interesting future competitive divide.
As always with this study, the breadth and scale of the data provide any commentator with an embarrassment of riches to write about. Often what is interesting is how much things don’t change over time. This year’s study indicates that traditional media still enjoys higher levels of trust than any other channel, despite the upheavals in the industry and the emergence of social media as a driving force in corporate reputation building. Digital media is more highly regarded in developing economies and younger audiences, perhaps due to perceptions that these channels are more independent of ‘the system’. Multi-channel communication is still key to building credibility, with almost two-thirds of respondents saying they need to hear a given piece of information three to five times before they believe it. And peers and specialists still rank considerably higher than CEOs as trusted spokespersons for an organization.Of all the data in this year’s study, though, three key findings stood out for me:
Of the nine countries classed as ‘trusters’, six are Asian countries and five are what would typically be called emerging markets.
Generally speaking, Asia’s economies emerged from the ‘global’ financial crisis relatively unscathed, and what impact they did feel was not generally blamed on domestic companies but more on the decline in demand from the more seriously affected developed economies. However, the data indicates that many companies from the region operating internationally will need to address a generally higher level of skepticism than they would encounter in their home markets. This makes sustained and transparent engagement of key stakeholders via earned media channels (especially traditional media) a more mission-critical function than seeking to build mind share through advertising.
Developed markets typically trust small businesses more than major corporations, while the reverse is true in developed markets.
The region’s emerging multinationals have always been seen as the powerhouses of the local economies and their successes are celebrated in their countries of origin. However, as these companies look to build their reputation in developed markets the big business model is less favourably viewed – again symptomatic of a more general skepticism about the morals and ethics of business leaders. This implies that emerging multinationals could expect to be more favourably viewed overseas if they seek to use local supply chains rather than sourcing everything from the home market. I’m reminded of the positive impact that Hyundai’s decision to open its Montgomery, Alabama plant had on the brand’s reputation in the U.S. market (despite some early cultural difficulties.)
Companies headquartered in China and India generally have higher levels of trust in emerging markets than in developed economies.
Obviously China in particular has been investing heavily in emerging economies, especially those that are rich in natural resources. What is interesting is the extent to which investment from emerging countries into emerging countries has often been accompanied by significant investment in infrastructure and the concomitant creation of a lot of new local businesses. Of course, global MNCs are making similar investments and still operate at a trust premium. However, as emerging multinationals ramp up their presence in these markets we might expect to see a significant competitive battle being fought over access to some of the world’s fastest growing markets and the rich natural resources that many of them harbour. A clash of civilisations, perhaps.
I also noted that Japan and Korea are tracking more closely with developed economies than with the rest of Asia. For all the years I’ve been in the region “Asia ex-Japan” has been a fairly common soci0-geographic label among multi-nationals operating here. Korea was generally classed as an emerging economy. The performance of Korea’s high-profile chaebol - especially Samsung and Hyundai /Kia – coupled with the success of the country’s aggressive drive to globalize its popular culture have clearly paid off in terms of international confidence in Korea’s institutions in general.
The top line results of the study are available on Slideshare – well worth a read.