Lord Browne was wrong about PR but he was closer to the mark on CSR

Lord Browne's announcement on the need to kill off PR and CSR didn't have me scrambling around for a new career, even though I agreed with a lot of what he said.

Lord Browne's comments are not the death-knell for PR, writes Peter Gilheaney
Lord Browne's comments are not the death-knell for PR, writes Peter Gilheaney
He was decrying a certain strain of PR, one that is all about control and defensive media management and, like him, I’d be delighted to see that back of that dinosaur aspect of the industry.

In some ways, PR has been forced to grow up recently, not least by the increasing social media-led influence consumers and others can have on the reputation of organisations. 

They are increasingly getting caught out by the gap between their public pronouncements and the actuality of their day-to-day operation.

Far from sounding the death knell for PR, this is a great opportunity for it to shed its external image of being about the dark arts of reputation management, the comms equivalent of the right to a legal defence no matter how guilty you are. PR should be values-led, starting with agencies themselves.

The best PR can and should be about communicating the values and value of something allied to a transparency about the workings of an organisation and the issues it is involved with. 

It should credit the audiences it is looking to engage with the intelligence to understand the complexity so many organisations have to deal with and the dilemmas this creates, as well as being appreciative of the values that organisation is seeking to demonstrate through its operation (and not just its comms). 

Progressive businesses need to live their values, and effective PR should focus on helping them to do so, not just trying to cover up the mistakes.

But he is much more on the money with his comments about CSR. 

Too often, it has become the outsourcing department for a company’s conscience, a convenient place to deliver its penance while it gets on with the serious business of business. 

It needs to be dragged out of the 'nice to have' ghetto that it finds itself in and play a central role in the running of businesses. 

It is why the arrival of the B Corps movement in the UK is so timely. B Corps are businesses that put social and environmental impact on the same level as financial performance by adopting legally binding governing documents under which they formally commit to balancing the interests of shareholders with having a material positive impact on society and the environment as a whole. 

CSR’s future lies in its own redundancy, when it is a central aspect of simply doing business.

Peter Gilheany is director of Forster Communications

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