Evolution becomes Revolution: The Changing Role of Professional Communicators and ‘The New PR’

Evolution becomes Revolution: The Changing Role of Professional Communicators and ‘The New PR’

Part 2 in the blog series The New PR

The changing information needs of both stakeholders and companies are redefining the role of corporate communications departments and professionals including community, investor, government, and employee relations. Companies are recognizing that increasingly savvy – some would say cynical – audiences are becoming more and more discerning about messages that corporations are sharing.

Using the internet as simply another mechanism to provide information to an audience (or audiences) is a poor use of the tool and one that information consumers are quick to discredit. The internet has fundamentally transformed not only how people get their information but also the relationship that they have with the information. Instead of passive audiences, those who make their living in communications have the opportunity – and increasingly the obligation – to engage with our stakeholders in open, transparent and direct conversation as part of a comprehensive communications strategy.

Progressive companies and communications professionals recognize the true power of the Web and have do not see the Internet as a mechanism to share information (evolution) but as a forum uniquely suited to engage in direct dialogue, discussion and debate (the revolution that I call ‘The New PR’). They find the net provides them with an unparalleled opportunity to understand, and respond when appropriate, to what is being said about their enterprise – positive, negative and neutral.

“The New PR” requires corporate communications professionals to modify their strategies, and refine the structure and content of all manner of communications vehicles from the traditional (annual reports, press releases, speeches and presentations) to the established (Websites) and the evolving (social media such as twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, etc.) to address the issues of most concern to stakeholders.

Corporate communications professionals must use their skills to articulate the organization’s environmental, social and as well as the more traditional economic commitments to all of these groups and be prepared to discuss actual performance against goals and objectives. Aspirational goals are often explained through standards or statements of expectations (including financial goals and forecasts, ethics, environmental, and safety policies). Working with and engaging with stakeholders offers insight into how to ensure that these policies not only reflect community needs and values but also industry standards as well as any statutory and regulatory requirements. In other words, expectations of what is reasonable can be managed; provide the dialogue is open, transparent and authentic.

Successful businesses increasingly relying on building and fostering open, multi-stakeholder dialogue with their key stakeholders; including their own employees, customers, communities, shareholders and investors, government regulators and legislators and yes, even their competitors.

Working with stakeholders within the organization is also important, using the employee (or internal) communications function to obtain the input and gain the buy-in of tax, legal, human resources and other departments that will benefit (and can offer important guidance) in the development of both the policies and the messages explaining them.

Additionally, since transparency requires companies to reveal their shortcomings as part of the process the legal department is another key constituency. In order for the reporting to be transparent and credible, measurement of both the initial baselines as well as subsequent results will need to be done through internal experts, consultants, NGO partner and/or a combination. And to avoid litigation, legal professionals must be engaged to ensure that the messages do not put the organization at legal risk, particularly in light of the sometimes highly charged and litigious atmosphere that seems all too prevalent these days, particularly in the U.S.

Over the next several weeks I will introduce and explain in some detail the five “keys” that I have developed that provide a framework for how a program can be built and messaged, answering the important key questions of “who”, “what”, “where”, “how” and “why.” When all of the five are in place, communications professionals do not need to present information “in its best possible light” (or spin) but rather can focus their efforts toward transparency and openness.  

Next week: The Five Keys to Unlock the Full Potential of Your Sustainability Program.

To read more posts from this series, click here

John Friedman, an award-winning communications professional and recognized sustainability expert with more than 20 years of experience, is co-founder and vice chair of the board for the Sustainable Business Network of Washington (SBNOW). 

Friedman has served as both an external and internal sustainability leader, helping companies, ranging from small companies to leading global enterprises, turn their values into successful business models by integrating their environmental, social, and economic aspirations into their cultures and business practices. 

His insights on sustainability issues and strategy are a regular feature on Huffington Post.

Friedman authored the e-publication The New PR which outlines how companies must modify the way they communicate to meet stakeholders' changing expectations through five proven keys for developing programs that replace "spin" with transparency and unlock the full potential of a sustainability program to build reputational capital. Friedman is currently working on a new book Your Backyard Is My Front Yard.

He can be reached at johnf@sbnow.org, is @JohnFriedman on Twitter and can be connected on LinkedIn and Facebook