Comms execs receive Page Society framework as positive step

The framework released this week by the Arthur W. Page Society is not a corporate reputation panacea, but a positive step for dealing with the challenges posed by social media and transparency demands.

The framework released this week by the Arthur W. Page Society is not a corporate reputation panacea, but a positive step for dealing with the challenges posed by social media and unprecedented transparency demands, say communications leaders.
 
The model encourages CCOs to build a fundamental corporate character, then behave and communicate with stakeholders, including consumers, in accordance with it. In a change from earlier Page Society models, it also encourages communications leaders to promote positive behavior and advocacy from consumers via the social media platforms that have drastically changed the communications landscape. The Page Society notes that “the actions and the very existence of some intuitions are subject to radical transparency” in the framework.
 
“If you look at IBM and its ‘Smarter Planet' initiative, as well as many other companies that have very thoughtfully created not just advertising or PR campaigns, but a strategic focus that is well understood both within the enterprise and outside, that builds belief in those companies,” says Roger Bolton, president of the Page Society. “We don't think we have all the answers here, but I do think we provide a framework that should be useful to most members and one they can discuss with their teams.”
 
Prior to publishing the framework, the organization examined the communications models of companies such as GE, Apple, BMW, IBM, and Johnson & Johnson. Jon Iwata, SVP of marketing and communications at IBM, is the chairman of the Page Society.  
 
The framework is valuable because it creates a boundary between the work of communicators and marketing and advertising professionals at a time when distinctions among those disciplines are becoming harder to recognize, notes Bob DeFillippo, CCO at Prudential Financial.
 
“This reinforces the standards that the industry needs to maintain no matter how dramatically the profession has changed,” he explains. “There is a blurring of the lines in terms of earned and paid. The new model establishes a distinction between the two things and helps to preserve the integrity of that which makes PR unique.”

However, Alan Kelly, CEO and founder of Playmaker Systems, says the Page Society is endorsing “a model and a mindset that has more to do with communications as a compliance function than communications as a competitive function.”
 
“We're in a time when corporations are largely apologetic for their existence, their right to operate, and their right to communicate, and they are generally unfamiliar with and unwilling to take measures that will actively and progressively state, restate, and argue their point of view and position,” he notes. “The model we have, frankly, takes us backward to a mindset that the communications executive is there to protect and serve rather than to differentiate.”
 
The model follows two earlier reports by the Page Society, “The Authentic Enterprise” release in 2007, and “The Dynamics of Public Trust in Business – Emerging Opportunities for Leaders,” which followed two years later. However, in a videotaped address to the conference, Iwata indicated that the industry has far outgrown previous communications models that have been in use for decades.  
 
Most communications executives interviewed by PRWeek give the just-released framework positive reviews, but add that the organization must refine the standards in the future. For instance, Ray Jordan, corporate VP of public affairs and corporate communications at Johnson & Johnson, explains that while the framework notes the blurring lines between earned and paid media, the organization will have to reexamine the ethical implications of that confluence in coming years.
 
“Are there new ethical concerns there? That will need to be revisited,” he says.
 
Kirsten Gorsuch, VP of corporate communications at medical technology company Medtronic, says she is largely pleased with the communications model, but adds that future versions should incorporate b-to-b companies.
 
“If you're more of a b-to-b company that doesn't have as much interaction with consumers, what does advocacy of scale mean?” she says. “Everyone has acknowledged that this is a work in progress and that very few companies have this all figured out.”

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