COMMENT: PLATFORM; Good relations make for good business

Successful PR doesn’t just rely on public perception, but on the company values that underlie it, says Hilary Sutcliffe

Successful PR doesn’t just rely on public perception, but on the company

values that underlie it, says Hilary Sutcliffe

Stakeholding - aren’t you sick of it? Behind the management speak it

seems like common sense, and it’s hard to see what the fuss is about.

In case you’ve been on Mars, it goes something like this: if you’re in

business, a lot of people matter to your success. It’s not just the

shareholders who can make or break you, but any of the people you may

deal with. So you’d better make sure you treat them responsibly and that

everyone is clear about what you do, where you’re coming from and where

you’re going. There. That’s it.

While many companies say it’s rubbish, many don’t. During my three

years’ work on the RSA Inquiry, Tomorrow’s Company, thousands of people

have come forward, saying: ‘at last, this is what we thought all along,

but no-one put a name to it’. There is a real ground-swell of support

for this ‘inclusive approach’ to business.

But how to convince the sceptics who think that if you’re concentrating

on these other people you can’t possibly keep your eye on the main man,

the shareholder? I like to talk to them, not just about the value for

shareholders in adopting this approach, but about the real risks

involved in not doing so.

Quite simply, if you ignore a relationship, or abuse it, it can cost you

money, your reputation, even your company. The price of repairing the

damage is far higher than the cost of nurturing the relationship in the

first place.

You might provoke your customers (like Gerald Ratner), your employees

(dare I mention London Underground?), or suppliers (Sunday Business?),

the community (Shell?) or even, no surely not, the media (where do I


Many great companies agonise constantly about building inclusive

relationships and still have problems. No company is immune from all

problems, after all. But some weather them better than others. The

difference comes down to the company’s values.

It’s the difference between the rhetoric and the reality. If the values

a company adopts and the way it behaves closely underpin the outward

perception then the damage is usually limited; if there is a yawning

chasm between what it says and what it does, one poor joke can undo

years of hard work.

So who guides the company on this journey to inclusiveness? It can be

the public relations professional. We have an overview of the whole

organisation and are able to offer a dispassionate view based upon a

real understanding of the risks involved in failing the rhetoric/reality


It’s our job to anticipate risk and advise accordingly. But we need to

broaden our focus from the media and the shareholder to look at every

aspect of the company. We should be asking questions about the

underlying values and how these are reflected in the way the company

does business and the way its relationships are measured.

So the next time your weekend is ruined by some article in the Sunday

Times and the client is on the phone in a panic, instead of simply

looking at how to correct the misperception, start to ask the difficult

questions, and persist until you get some answers, and some changes.

It’s our job, after all.

There is a lot of talk about the future of public relations and I can’t

think of a more fundamental, powerful or exciting role than this. It’s

there for the taking, so let’s get on with it.

Hilary Sutcliffe is joint managing director of Addition Public Relations

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