Radical engagement - a call to arms

When someone as venerable and experienced as Lord Browne calls on CEOs in a time of crisis to sack their PR and CSR teams it certainly ignites debate on the purpose of what we do, writes Yuki Finch of Teamspirit.

Lord Browne has got it wrong, argues Yuki Finch
Lord Browne has got it wrong, argues Yuki Finch
In today’s open, digital accessible world do CEOs need comms teams or have we become an unnecessary filter that distances a CEO from direct relationship with the public and allow responsibility to be absolved from senior management for corporate action?

It is hard, as senior comms professional not to wince. Is it time we head to the hills to write that novel we all have inside of us? 

Bluntly, no. 

Lord Browne makes an important point but rather than it being a call to leave the industry, we should read it as a call to arms for the role of PR when business is in crisis.  

We have to evolve what we do to ensure that PR and CSR drives the reinvigoration of relationship between corporate and consumer, public and private. 

Yes, technology is forcing a radical change in the availability of information and demand for accessibility but if we can evolve, it is a case for our industry not against. 

Meeting the challenge requires our industry to align around the principles that Lord Browne advocates. We need to ensure our CEOs and the organisations they represent communicate without corporate-speak and are open to the communities they serve. 
If we are successful, then we will have made possible the radical engagement Lord Browne calls for and had critical role in rebuilding public trust in business. 

Action is needed for still too often, the public doesn’t believe large business acts for them and therefore doesn’t trust their motives. 

Trust relies on relationships that encourage direct dialogue, a meeting of minds that leads to a shared outcome, shaped by both parties. Relationships are what we do best in PR do and why our industry has such an important role to meeting the challenge posed by Lord Browne. 

How we will build dialogue and trust for our clients will vary company to company, sector to sector and issue to issue. 

But for it to make a lasting difference to public perception, corporate reputation and trust, it has to be meaningful. 

It is not about consensus. It is about creating opportunities for CEO, senior management to have direct exchanges with those most important to them – their customers and stakeholders. 

Everyone may agree to disagree, but if the conversation has been open and all have been heard, then the relationship will be stronger and ideas, sparks of innovation may emerge that can only come from polar opposite points of view coming together. 

And this is where opening dialogue could transform not only reputation but how businesses operate and how they meet the needs of society for the long term. 

It rests on social purpose being at the heart of all a business does, not limited to a siloed CSR team. When we think of the scale of the environmental, demographic and economic challenges that lie ahead for our society and economy, this approach could bring the radical answers we need. 

Yuki Finch is planning director at Teamspirit Public Relations

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