EDITORIAL: From corporate America to the White House, solid communications begins with listening

Managing expectations is a critical part of any PR pro's job, agency or in-house. The point is obvious - don't promise to get the CEO on the cover of Fortune, when the best that can be hoped for is a blurb in the weekly shopper.

Managing expectations is a critical part of any PR pro's job, agency or in-house. The point is obvious - don't promise to get the CEO on the cover of Fortune, when the best that can be hoped for is a blurb in the weekly shopper.

Margaret Tutwiler, the US State Department's undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, is trying to retroactively manage the expectations of her impatient client - the American people and government. In testimony before a House committee last week, she wisely avoided grandiose promises, and chose instead to focus on the nature of the challenge, and outlined a realistically optimistic view of how to move forward. Vital to her plan is understanding the need to gather information about the true nature of the US' image, rather than simply focusing on getting out our preferred messages. "We must listen more, not only to foreign audiences, but to our own personnel overseas," she said, adding that an interactive website is now being created to facilitate that dialogue. Many of us winced at some of the Madison Avenue plays of the previous team behind this initiative, and not out of a knee-jerk "we're not selling Uncle Ben's here" reaction to Charlotte Beers' pedigree. Too often, the administration and the US media seems mystified by the very nature of the challenge. The strategy can be subsequently untargeted and lacking depth. The same rule applies for corporations as well as diplomatic efforts - first you listen, then you talk. CEOs will always have a key comms role In a related perspective on global issues, there are some who say the trend of keeping the CEO out of the spotlight has gone too far, in light of the struggling economic times and the need for leadership around the world. It's easy to understand why they are staying below the radar right now. Edelman's 2004 Trust Barometer asked global influencers how credible information would be when received from a variety of sources, including company employees, news media, and advertising. CEOs/CFOs did not fare very well, garnering only 20% in the US, 24% in the UK, 20% in France, and 18% in Germany. But CEO Richard Edelman says there is an imperative for CEOs to stay actively engaged in the debate. In particular, he warns, CEOs and companies risk handing over the reigns of public debate to opponents of commercial interests, and they will struggle to win it back. Employee communications is also a vital function for CEO involvement, along with NGOs, shareholders, regulators, and others. "In so many areas, there's a need for CEO leadership," he says. "If you believe in a multi-stakeholder world, CEOs need to harness both the 'hard' power of the numbers and financials, and the 'soft' power of values and leadership." Interesting, too, is the comparatively high percentages CEO/CFO-generated information garnered in China and Brazil, with 45% and 48%, respectively. China in particular has great potential as an increasingly important region for US corporations. By appropriately calibrating C-suite communications now, companies may be able to build on that relatively positive perception and make real strides in that burgeoning market.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in