So why are so many companies in financial angst ejecting communications staff and activities, the very people and strategies that can articulate corporate integrity and help build (or rebuild) reputation?
There are plenty of theories. One is that some of these companies don’t have a good story to tell. Another is that management sees little chance of communicators influencing skeptical audiences, so why bother trying? A third is that company leaders don’t view communications as a key business strategy, but rather a patch employed whenever the balloon springs a leak. Yet another is that management woefully underestimates the impact of reputation, insisting that “making the numbers” in the next quarter is the only thing that matters.
The messages of reputation and integrity are being reduced to pretty hallway posters of windswept mountains, orange-purple sunsets and dewy leaves, all resting on a line of poetic thought.
No wonder the window-peepers don’t like what they see.
I’m not suggesting, as some do while frothing into any available microphone, that all corporations lack integrity. I have had the privilege of associating with many companies that actually cared about their employees, their customers and their communities. (And a fair number that didn’t.)
In my view, the heart of the problem is leadership’s lack of understanding of the strategic value of communications. They often don’t learn it in business school, they only see the expense line on a spreadsheet, and while they might acknowledge the increasing importance of reputation in the minds of customers, they think a nice mission statement and a sincere face covers it.
I’ve seen the immense damage, both internally and externally, that’s done to organizations (not just businesses) when communications isn’t part of the strategic mix. Conversely, I’ve seen the power of frank, truthful, open communication in building morale, improving business and establishing a positive reputation.
So long as an organization truly cares about integrity and demands it of every employee and function, there’s a story to tell that people want to hear. Communicators are uniquely positioned to tell it.
The late advertising executive Charlie Brower once said, “The expedient thing and the right thing are seldom the same thing.” When it comes to the role of communications, it’s advice well worth considering in the C-suite.