FiftyOneZeroOne

Posts Tagged ‘Corporate Communication

In recent times, as the endless litany of claims of phone-hacking and other journalistic behaviour by journalists at the UK’s now closed ‘News of the World’ and other newspapers in the Murdoch UK stable have arisen, friends in the US and other countries have suggested that I blog on it.

I have not rushed to judgement, as each day seemed to bring forward worse claims than the one before. And also because, and here I declare an interest, my first job almost 40 years again was as a cadet journalist on ‘The Australian’ the national daily newspaper established by (Keith) Rupert Murdoch in the late 1960s. On that paper, I gained my first experience of journalism and rose to be a national correspondent and, at times, night news editor.

I remember “Rupert” (or “KRM”) as innovative, hard-nosed, and wanting his newspapers to be the best – the newsiest and top-selling. He could be ruthless but was also immensely loyal to many editors and managers who stayed with him as his empire expanded into the UK, US, India and China.

So I have always had a continuing regard for this very driven media entrepreneur who has built an empire from one daily paper in Adelaide, South Australia. But that doesn’t mean that I have accepted the behaviour of his more popular papers.

In the UK, it has been obvious for some years that the News of the World and the Sun, the daily tabloid, have pushed the bounds of taste, decency, accuracy and ethical behaviour. In some ways, this non-establishment behaviour by “red tops” is what has made them so popular for over a century. The Sun, for example, sells more copies each day than all the “quality” daily news papers added together.

The “phone hacking scandal” is just the furthest extremes in practices. The News of the World may be just one example of the abuse of privacy of people who are not in the public eye. Please note that a non-Murdoch newspaper, Daily Star, has been raided by police and allegations have been made against the Sun and the very establishment Sunday Times.

As Rupert Murdoch has very publicly apologised to one set of victims and was heard saying that he was “appalled” by journalist behaviour, we can see that he has begun to realise the enormity of the problem and, possibly, to reinstate new values to his journalists.

Many public relations theorists (Coombs & Holladay; Fearn-Banks) have proposed ‘apologia’ as strategy in crisis communication and recovery. It sets a base for recovery and reinstating reputation. This has started but is questionable whether Murdoch’s News International group can recover its standing in order to maintain its ‘licence to operate’.

Regulators, parliament and a judicial enquiry into phone-hacking have already limited its operations. It’s possible that US authorities may become involved, as there are claims that 9/11 victims had phones hacked and that payments made by Murdoch journalists to British police for information may be addressed by US anti-bribery laws which reach beyond national jurisdictions.

At this point, the issues to address are 1) what were the Murdoch public relations strategies and behaviours and 2) what future strategies and actions are needed? From the evidence of News International’s public relations spokesperson’s interviews, the strategy had been to ‘deny and reassure’ even when obvious that continuing disclosures demonstrated phone-hacking was widespread.

That strategy painted News International into a tiny corner and has only been reversed when Rupert Murdoch flew into the UK earlier this week. Any “halo” value of past performance in terms of financial success, popularity of publications, political influence and innovation had been eroded. In short, the public relations behaviours were the same as the obstructive attitudes of management. Public relations counsel has either been ignored or supine.

For the future, the apologia delivered by Murdoch has to be followed by very transparent responses to enquiries and police investigations. News International must follow this approach as there is no skerrick of trust in it by major decision-makers. Any further obstruction will close the ‘licence to operate’ further.

Putting aside the phone-hacking scandal, the Murdoch papers have always been leaders in journalism and news. That’s what made them so popular. It has also held politicians and malefactors to account, along with numerous celebrities. The right form of transparent and values-;ed public relations strategy, along with new corporate behaviours, at the News International corporate entity can help restore robust journalism.

That will be very important because there are many key influencers, especially in Parliament, who want to get revenge on the media, not just the Murdoch press. They want to limit the scope of news-gathering and investigation, which will limit debate in a democratic polity. The ‘phone-hacking’ scandal has given them an opportunity, which must be resisted. Public relations strategies can help resist these attempts at greater control.

Recently, I undertook research with Dr Chindu Sreedharan, for the Institute of Public Relations on the skills and training needs of future senior communicators. It was a study amongst top corporate and consultancy communicators in Europe and North America to identify the skills future leaders needed, and training and education to prepare them. A video of my presentation of the report was recently made for the Public Relations Institute of Australia.

One of the key comments that framed the study came from a top European corporate communicator: “It’s no longer sufficient to have a communications background only. Senior communicators need to understand business environment and management styles to be seen as trusted advisors.”

This view that top-level communicators had to understand all the operations of a major organisation was widespread and pointed towards practice developments and education that focus on strategy development and the integration of communication objectives with organisational objectives and KPIs.  The report had three groups of conclusions for early implementation:

 Practice

  • Communication strategy must be linked to or part of business strategy
  • Communicators should understand the whole business environment, not just media and communication
  • Operational experience needed; They need to speak language of the business

 Training and Education

  • Key subjects are business strategy, financial literacy, economics, public affairs and public diplomacy, and relationship management
  • Stronger focus is needed on research and business analysis skills

 Proof of Performance

  • The ability to interpret and apply the most appropriate research methods is more important than technical measurement skills
  • Evaluation frameworks need to be developed for judgement on organisational impact, not clip measurement
  • Planning skills need improvement

 The full report is available at: http://www.instituteforpr.org/ipr_info/future_leaders/

‘Telling the story’ is the title of Black Sun’s annual analysis of FTSE 100 corporate reports. The report shows that the UK’s major quoted companies are increasingly focused on social responsibility in their activities during 2010.

One headlines was that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been overtaken by Corporate Responsibility (CR), with just 9% of companies using CSR, compared with 53% using CR. CSR was also behind Sustainability (14%) and just ahead of Sustainable Development (8%). Only three of the 100 top companies did not refer to any of the terms.

This change in nomenclature, says Black Sun, shows that companies are increasingly moving from environmental/social terms through corporate responsibility and on to sustainability, although the strong representation of CR doesn’t validate that argument.  A side-light was that utilities companies use CR whilst basic materials companies (miners, etc) use ‘sustainability’.  Perhaps an example of opportunistic use of language?

Black Sun comments that CR, in all forms, has moved from being a “non-essential business element and a ‘nice to do’”.  Increasingly leading companies are “demonstrating linkages between the company strategy, governance and financial performance, and the social, environmental and economic context.”

As for integrating CR, etc into corporate strategy, it appears that 20% have it “integral to the group strategy” and 33% have a standalone CR policy which “complement(s) the group strategy.

For PR and corpcomms people, the news isn’t all that helpful. Although the esteemed academic Prof Robert Heath long ago staked a claim that CSR should be the responsibility of corporate public relations, there’s no mention of the communication of CR (or CSR) in this report and it appears clear that this important element of organisational policy and behaviour is not seen as the preserve of communicators.

The latest, very topical Managing Outcomes newsletter from Tony Jaques in Australia has a very good article that questions the value of  Issues Advertising by large organisations. The killer data that he uses to support the case is about the low level of trust that the public has in advertising and in the statements by organisations about themselves:

“… the credibility of traditional media advertising is continuing a steady decline. In fact a study of 2,000 adults in the UK and US for the British company Alterian showed that only 5% of consumers (4% UK, 6% US) trusted advertising, and only 8% (9% UK, 6% US) believe “what the company says about itself.” If it is true that well over 90% of the public don’t believe advertising, perhaps [Australian bank] CBA should have remembered the wise old maxim on the subject – Corporate advertising is like wetting yourself in a dark suit. It very briefly gives you a nice warm feeling, but no-one notices.”

I recommend signing up for Tony’s regular newsletter on issue management. It’s always readable – and he’s got the hand-on experience and research to support the case that is being made.

ROI or Return on Investment is a much-used public relations term. Its beginnings are in financial management but it’s less well defined in PR practice.

I’m researching into practitioner use and understanding of ROI and will report on my findings to PR Moment’s ROI Conference in February and other conferences in the coming year. I’ve prepared a short survey which will take 10 minutes to complete. It will give data and insights on which further research in the UK and other countries will be based.

As ROI is often a judgement on communication effectiveness, I hope you will take part in this very relevant study. Comments and feedback are welcome, too.

The Irish historian, Dr Francis X. Carty, has written a history of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid of Dublin, who died in 1973. McQuaid formed a Public Image Committee in the 1960s but found it hard to cope with two-way communication. Below is a telling quote on “the voice of authority” from McQuaid who found the liberal outcomes of Vatican II rather hard to cope with.

“As a matter of principle, authority cannot give its reasoning. People must accept decisions because authority has spoken, and not the reasons behind the decision. This is, of course, because authority is from God, and the voice of authority is God.”

Archbishop  McQuaid was addressing the first meeting of the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin’s Public Image Committee in the 1960s. He was responding to a priest’s comment that “there is a tendency today for people to be interested in the reason for events”.

(Carty, F.X. (2007). Hold Firm – John Charles McQuaid and the Second Vatican Council. Dublin: The Columbia Press, p.28)

I have just started a research project for the Institute for Public Relations, sponsored by Coca-Cola, on the skills and competencies needed for senior corporate communicators and PR advisors, looking five to 10 years ahead.

Here’s the URL to the Institute for Public Relations website on which I discuss current communication scenarios and the future needs for developing top communicators. http://www.instituteforpr.org/digest_entry/2015s_top_communicators_new_skills_and_expertise_required/ What’s your view on this?


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