Danny Rogers: Industry can drive comms ethics debate

We are obsessed with growth in the business world.

Danny Rogers: Industry can drive comms ethics debate
Danny Rogers: Industry can drive comms ethics debate

The UK's economic growth (or lack of it) made the headlines as usual last week. And this week's publication of the Top 150 PR Consultancies report prompted excitement about the PR industry's nine per cent fee growth in 2011.

But the reality, post-credit crunch, is that we are not seeing the levels of growth we did pre-2008, when the economy was enjoying annualised growth of nearly three per cent, and the PR industry more than 20 per cent.

In fact, there is a growing consensus - notably within the Church and the Occupy movement - that our blind faith in such growth is at the heart of society's problems.

This was the subject of the inaugural Last Thursday Club debate on public ethics last week, attended by many leading figures in Occupy, senior PR professionals and journalists, as well as some of the more radical members of the clergy.

The subtext of the debate - 'Capitalism - have we had enough?' - was brought into sharp focus by revelations in the 2012 Sunday Times Rich List that the wealthiest one per cent of society continues to get richer despite the lack of growth.

If wealth is not 'trickling down' as free market capitalism argues that it will - and indeed the opposite is occurring - then the whole 'value' of business to our society comes under scrutiny.

What has this got to do with PR, I hear you ask? Well, corporate comms strategy is often predicated on shareholder value. But if this value - quite apart from social justice - is failing to be delivered, then comms professionals must look at where else their organisation is creating value.

This creates an impetus for 'values-based' businesses; organisations that can genuinely contribute to the broader society. It is a penny that has long since dropped among more enlightened global corporations such as Unilever. CEO Paul Polman - who last week called for business, NGOs and governments to work together towards solving society's problems - believes sustainability, CSR and long-term profitability should go hand in hand. And, of course, tangibly ethical firms have a powerful narrative, a personality, a comms edge.

This is a concept comms professionals can, and should, drive forward, because these new values need communicating to critical constituencies.

Hence, I call for a future Last Thursday Club debate to concentrate on the narrower area of corporate comms ethics. It is an opportunity for the PR industry to make a positive difference.

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