An after-thought to a previous post – Storytelling over big budgets – which I’ve just re-read. I implied that companies need to tell a good story rather than just rely on facts and figures, but I want to stress that storytelling alone won’t do the trick. It might if you’re an organisation that is highly trusted by the public e.g. an NGO but not if you’re a corporate player, with trust in industry far lower than even back in the Enron heyday.
Ever looked at an old ad? First thing that comes to mind is often: “can’t believe people were so gullible back then.” Same holds true with PA/PR now. You look back 5-10 years (I was a student then, so this is an assumption!) and it’ll likely look hollow compared to what’s come to be expected now.
Which is what? That companies are real, open, honest and transparent. That their stories are rooted in action not spin, and that they engage closely with stakeholders and respond actively to their queries and concerns – hence the shift from Public relations to Public engagement. A large part of this engagement needs to take place online. It’s a natural fit: the web – social media in particular – represents a communications model that defines the new era of public engagement; one where companies are more decentralised, they inform the conversation rather than leading it, and they engage with stakeholders of all stripes (not just a chosen few.)
I’d stress thought that what’s required to keep this all together is a set-up that goes way beyond communications and right into the core of how a business operates. Communications alone can not turn a dud into a winner. Success requires real business commitment to “do the right thing” in anything from reducing carbon footrprints to keeping employees healthy. And if it’s being done half-heartedly, it won’t work; people are too smart.
What’s more, to make the the two parts come together and really work – the business and communications – further work is required. Silos need to come down; communicators need to tell business units how they shold operate in light of PR best practice anno 2009 while business units should be loud and proud of their initiatives, at least internally.