Archive for July 2011
'CR' or 'CSR' or 'corporate sustainability' - whichever name you like best, Echo has a new qualification in it.
Last month I sat with French, Swiss, Greeks, Russians, Lebanese and Chinese in a Brussels hotel debating what good sustainable behaviour means and how to become better guides to our clients and colleagues on best CR practice. We'd come together at the global Centre for Sustainability and Excellence to stay abreast of the latest thinking about living and communicating corporate responsibility (CR). It was a chance to consider companies' greatest lapses into unacceptable behaviour, and their more elevated moments.
What became clear to me as we talked was how important 'due diligence' on reputational risks is. The mistake some companies make is to question stakeholders directly themselves about these things. But if the definition of reputation is "What people say about you when you've left the room", then doing your own investigations may not be the best way of getting at the unvarnished truth.
I was impressed to see how much value the workshop's moderators set by research. They saw it as a big tranche in the cycle of running a good CSR programme. The phases of identifying stakeholders, their needs and expectations, the opportunities and risks that might come from them, were all on the agenda.
Communicating and assessing success were said to be vital too - how the social and mainstream media deliver an echo of CR, as a distorted noise or a perfect sound replica.
CR reports were thought to need a test-bed of reader comment about how unique or transparent they are, or else risk being so much 'white noise'. Numbers alone are not illuminating, people said; measuring even distant 'echoes' and perspectives qualitatively gives important feedback on the journey ahead.
The risks from supply chains, and the need to measure supplier conformity to standards, came over as the 'hottest and hardest' topic. Here again, having access to research teams in remote and culturally disparate territories was important in winning intelligence about risks. It was about knowing how different stakeholders march to the beat of different drums, and comparing and reconciling the drumbeats - and for that, a good understanding of cultural relativity was crucial.
After writing a mini-thesis on the ideal CSR programme, and two hard-working, lively days in Brussels, Echo acquired another accreditation to add to the letterhead. (see above)
Brands are promises. To be strong, those promises have to be lived and authentic.
And brands are judged by the company they keep - think Disney (& Coca Cola & HP), think McDonalds (& Dreamworks), think WWF (& BSkyB), think the 2012 Olympics (& Visa), even think Accenture & Tiger Woods. These associations can be powerful metaphors until there is a disconnect with your target audience's values. And that's what's happened here.
Part of News of the World's brand promise has been as the people's champion - the nation's newspaper fighting 'little people's' battles against the large, rich and powerful. Now they've turned against the ordinary people - soldiers' widows, parents of murdered children - and look more like the cynical corrupt elite they claim they target. Their brand promise is broken. If but on that basis, News of the World has become 'damaged goods' and would struggle
to survive this.
Legal issues and ethics aside, which the full and proper investigation should confirm or otherwise, the sense of betrayal that such a significant and trusted 'people's newspaper' would encourage, allow or turn a blind eye to abusing the vulnerable is staggering. People will remember that - those in Liverpool are still boycotting The Sun after its Hillsborough coverage.
For major advertisers, to do nothing, in terms of changing allegiances or stopping the association, indicates tacit approval and acceptance - and potentially tarnishing their own reputation as uncaring and socially irresponsible.
That is why the likes of Sainsbury's, NPower, Boots, O2 and even the Royal British Legion would not wish to be connected with the distaste that the hacking scandal has provoked among the general public, many of whom swell News of the World's significant readership. Keeping their own reputation intact by being true to their and their customers' core values matters more to them than the effectiveness of advertising through what was once the largest circulation newspaper in the country.
This is a legal matter, but it's also emotional, commercial and political. More has yet to come out and other media titles won't let this die.
Such as today's Economist piece on 'Streets of Shame':
It's been said that what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. Is it time to think about research and evaluation in that context, too?
Measurement has always been the bug-bear of the PR industry, with calls for standard common measures and a pure, golden bullet, to take this 'headache' away from PR practitioners and let them 'get on' with their excellent work. But therein lies the problem. No one measure answers ALL questions or needs. No one approach will do. 'Getting on with the job' depends as much on the insights and data it uses to determine direction and convince others, as the activities that surround it. Measurement depends on where you are and what the need is. Otherwise the real danger is that the wrong exam question is answered really well, with 'E' for effort as the result.
The Barcelona Principles, set by amec and the CIPR rallying other leading industry bodies to common understandings, is an important beginning, with its seven guiding principles on best practice, including that of focusing on outcomes not outputs. This Summer's Measurement Summit in Lisbon took it a stage further in setting the course for the future by building in education and models. These are essential building blocks towards what ultimately matters - getting the thinking and behaviour right.
Research among practitioners, measurement experts and summit delegates keep assuring us that we know what we should do. Like eating our daily allowance of vegetables. We know what's important. We know AVEs (advertising value equivalence) is sugary-sweet and oh-so-tempting, but empty in terms of contributing to organisational results. We also know that the strength and credibility of public relations depends on insight and data. As time goes by, we are learning how to do it and take clients with us. But like our green leafy friends, we don't always embrace it as usefully as we should do,. The healthy, desired outcome - applying measurement meaningfully for the organisation and non-PR colleagues - should be the ultimate measure of success for us all. If the PR industry doesn't rise to this challenge and opportunity, the ringing in our ears may not be wholly welcomed or uncalled for.