In Barbados today, the public relations and corporate communication functions are in danger of losing their relevance. Regrettably, many companies still narrowly define them in terms of publicity and promotion; in essence, they are seen as subsets of marketing.
As a result, PR practitioners/communicators are expected to use the tools of their trade mainly to help create customers or to parade the corporate tail feathers. The critical issues-management, reputation-management and support-building roles these functions were created to play have been virtually eclipsed. Today’s PR is all about selling products, services and image, when it should be about establishing credibility and earning stakeholder trust.
Marketing budgets tell the story: six-figure sums are routinely spent on promoting golf tournaments, sailing regattas, horse races and polo matches. This is seen as brilliant branding. Meanwhile, scarcely a thin dime can be found to spend on communicating with employees, or keeping the community abreast of what is happening in the company.
There are consequences when companies place such lop-sided emphasis on publicity, high-profile events and consumer-driven communication, and one of those consequences is the erosion of trust.
Employees and investors don’t want to have to discount exaggerated promotional messages, as most consumers have learnt to do. They want the candid “no bull” version. They are not just buying the company’s products or services: they are betting their future, and their money, on the company and its management.
Communication that seeks only to tout products, services and sponsorships begins to grate after a while. Is there nothing else that companies can share with us; other stories they can tell?
How about something they have done recently to add value through innovation, clever strategy, or sound decision-making? How about showcasing corporate values at work? (And this doesn’t include tiresome “grip-and-grin” cheque presentations.)
What about revealing the type of productive culture they are building? How about sharing the company’s position on an issue that affects society? (It’s called thought leadership.) How about explaining not just the “what” but the “why” behind decisions that affect lives?
Your PR and communications people can help you to exploit these opportunities. It is what they are there to do. Give them the mandate to do it, along with some money to get it done. Stakeholders, including consumers, will appreciate the display of accountability and transparency, and the marketing budget can spare it.