REPUTATION: Development of the CPA director

'In the old days, he was often an old company management retainer, past his best but not deserving of being ignominiously put out to grass either. "Why not put old Jim in charge of PR?

they would say, giving him an office with a cocktail cabinet and a generous expense account.

'These days the director of CPA is now more likely to be an experienced communications professional leading a multi-disciplined team and representing it on the company's executive or management committee, where he shares in developing the policy of the whole company and where he has a key role advising on the company's positioning and relationships.

'In the old days, he would have been communicating outwards, his duty to convey the company line, to publicise its activities or sell its story, and, if necessary to cover up its mistakes or bad behaviour. It was not his role to influence company policy, but to defend, explain or promote it. He was a messenger, and sometimes a placater or even a seducer. If he was good at what he did he was paid reasonably well. He was rarely respected either inside or outside the company.

'These days he is just as likely to be communicating inwards ... the conscience of the company.

'In (a chapter of the book) we described the campaign for lead-free petrol. The behaviour of the petroleum industry PR men was typical of these old-style operators. Confronted with the crisis facing their companies - namely a public confrontation with the environmental movement in the form of Des Wilson's Clear campaign - they never attempted to establish the facts, or if they did it was only to misrepresent them, and they never attempted to persuade their masters that the message they were being asked to convey was not only a fraud but that the effect would be to do the companies more harm than good.

'Most of their material ignored all the evidence of harmful effects altogether, not even attempting to answer it. They questioned the motives of their opponents. Their message was that leaded petrol was harmless and that the environmentalists were emotive and hysterical.

'Above all they advised their employers not to meet the campaigners and not to answer their questions.

'Let's look at how they could have behaved ...

'When the first questions were raised in letters from a group of well-known people they should have urged their companies to pay for objective research to establish the facts. This would have at the very least have suggested to their employers that there was a worldwide trend towards lead-free petrol developing, based on genuine concerns, and that therefore the issue had to be taken seriously.

'Second they should have urged their companies to meet the people who had initially written to them. By ignoring Wilson and others they merely raised further suspicions, for surely, the campaigners thought, they must have something to hide. Furthermore, they forced the debate into the public arena.

'Above all, the PR men should have told their companies the days when you can just brush aside public concerns on health and safety are gone. You have to take them seriously.

'We should do the right thing and tackle the real problem, not just the PR problem.

'The corporate and public affairs director who believes his role is to tell his company only what it wants to hear is worthless. He should not only be the company's voice to the outside world, but the voice of the outside world to the company. He should ensure the company's communication with its stakeholders is not a monologue but a dialogue. He should ensure that research is conducted to establish the truth, not just to prove a case, no matter how weak or dishonest that case may be. He should be the conscience of the company, always asking "but is this right?", "are we treating our stakeholders properly?". And he should argue for the long-term.

'The CPA director is not the protector of the company's worst secrets, he is the watchdog over its behaviour. At all times he must drive home that the best PR is to do the right thing.

'At the same time he must understand that if the company is going to be a genuinely stakeholder company the ultimate responsibility cannot and must not rest with him. Corporate citizenship is not about PR. It's about what the company really is - about its real and underlying values.

The CPA director may often be the originator of a corporate citizenship approach for three reasons: first, if he's properly in tune with the world outside the company (and that's his job) he should know what the stakeholders are thinking and saying and wanting; second, he is often able to stand aside from the day-to-day operations and better see how the company is positioned in relation to its stakeholders and how it can be positioned; third, he should be a professional communicator, in charge of the company's communications channels, and thus is able to give the change real impetus by keeping it in the forefront of company thinking and not allowing any initial enthusiasm to die.

'Also he should be a trusted adviser to the chief executive and is well-placed to see that the concept is kept at the top of the chief executive's agenda.

'Finally, as the manager of what should be two-way communications, the CPA director can ensure that stakeholders feed into the process and wherever possible participate in it.

'Corporate and public affairs is, therefore, central to corporate citizenship - as advocate within the company, as facilitator of relationships, as communicator. But ultimately the concept must belong to the mainstream management.

'At BAA, Des Wilson was the innovator and driving force at first; by the time he left he was not even attending the Contract with the Community Board. The responsibility for corporate citizenship had been absorbed by the mainstream management. He was particularly proud of that.' - Private Business Public Battleground is published by Palgrave.

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