Communication Directors' Forum

CSR advance needs comms

Companies are not doing enough to communicate the extent of their

socially responsible practices, delegates at the Communication

Directors' Forum 2001 were told.

The gathering took place last week aboard the cruise ship Oriana in the

English Channel.

Charlotte Hines, an associate director at research firm MORI told the

conference that awareness of responsible practices was still 'far too

low' despite major advances made in recent years.

'People expect to be told when a company behaves responsibly. Negative

perceptions are largely the job of communications professionals to

change,' she said.

In a session called 'More than the triple bottom line,' Hines and fellow

MORI researcher Susan Walker - president of the UK chapter of the

International Association of Business Communicators - also presented

evidence that public awareness of a firm's attitude to training and

educating staff had overtaken its approach to the environment as the top

factor in assessing its responsible status.

'An age of corporate celebrity'

The public image of a company's CEO is the third most important factor

influencing its reputation, the Forum was told.

In a session headlined 'CEO stands for Charismatic Executive Orator,'

Hill & Knowlton deputy chairman Andy Laurence said that after how it

treated its customers and its employees, the public image of the CEO

determines how people will think about companies.

Laurence presented the results of research which claimed the personal

reputation of CEOs was more important than ever. 'We live in an age of

corporate celebrity,' he told delegates.

Anger greets focus group results

A report by Opinion Leader Research, Fresh and Echo Research into the

future role of the communications director led to fierce debate.

OLR chief executive Fiona Stewart produced the results of focus groups

which claimed that in-house heads of communication were not being taken

seriously by their senior management. 'It was often perceived that

communications is thought of as being easy,' she said.

One suggested outcome was that the head of communications role be

re-titled 'corporate reputation director'. The report was greeted with

anger by some delegates. Scottish Power corporate affairs director

Dominic Fry said 'I don't recognise this situation.'

Biss Lancaster chairman Graham Lancaster said: 'In 30 years of PR, I

have never known us to be taken so seriously by company boards.'

Publicity debate stirs emotions

Delegates at the four day conference voted overwhelmingly against the

motion put forward at the final session: 'This house believes all

publicity is good publicity.'

Despite pleas from the proposers - Liz Peace, the Defence Evaluation and

Research Agency's director of corporate affairs and Iain Anderson,

Cicero Consulting's founding director and chief corporate counsel - the

motion was voted down by two to one.

Speaking against the motion were David Walter, former BBC correspondent

and director of communications for the Liberal Democrats, and Stephen

Thomas, MD of brand communications agency CGI.

The occasionally ill-tempered debate was chaired by Consolidated

Communications director of public affairs and former Oxford Union

vice-president Ed Vaizey.

Leader, p10.

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