Reverse Spin: When PR Steers Ethical Practices

Amid the news of RBC swapping a handful of its Canadian IT staff for foreign workers, I zeroed in on a post about the bank trying to use crafty “PR-speak” to recover.  The challenge is, few are buying it. Quotes from one of the soon-to-be-replaced employees and resulting news stories had carried the story too far by the time RBC’s CEO spoke of the bank’s “very high priority on Canadian jobs” a couple of days later.

SpinningEdReality is a company’s brand is determined by what others say about it, not the image it attempts to create for itself.  The most brilliant communication is futile when the message is not reflected in the company’s actions.

What may come as a surprise to some is corporate communicators know you’re only as a good as the organization you represent. Simply “spinning” with minimal action to support your message is exhausting and soul-sucking.

Fortunately, those in corporate communication roles have a wide-angle view across the organization to foresee issues and a trained sixth sense to identify and appeal to their stakeholders’ self-interests. This often presents a huge opportunity for communicators to build a business case and steer the company to the “ethical right.”

One way is focusing on this “brand” ideal that marketers and communicators strive to nurture and sustain and how it actually translates into the tangible “goodwill” line in a merger or acquisition. Another way is to re-frame the scenario to highlight long-term threats, as Toby Heaps, CEO and Publisher, Corporate Knights did in a CBC interview when he cited the economic drain of chronic unemployment.

Many astute communicators and PR professionals serve as the company’s conscience by using these and other angles to push for ethical actions based on good business sense, which resonates with decision-makers. In doing so, they also strengthen the corporate message and its impact.

I’ve seen this approach used to persuade decision-makers to take ethical steps, such as restoring socially conscious programs, firing dishonest vendors and treating exiting employees as fairly as possible. Mark Schumann, a former IABC Chair, once referred to this role as being the “organization’s conscience and protector of the corporate soul.” When performed effectively, it’s likely averted many so-called “PR disasters.”

Unfortunately, this approach often fails in the first attempt or the PR team is alerted too late. Still, I suspect there are communicators, possibly in a bank somewhere, who continue to tenaciously pursue ethical practices that really “walk the talk.”

Although it’s usually below the radar, this too is PR and the polar opposite of soulless spinning.

What do you think? Have you seen evidence of this in your work?

Advertisements

How Do You Measure the Days in a Year?

Time to reflect back on 525,600 minutes, assess and plan for the year ahead.  We know it’s important to examine our own personal growth strides and professional results but what about the world beyond?

Increasingly companies are measuring and being measured for more than their financial output and stakeholders are asking: “Success at what cost?”  Should we use a similar scale to take stock of our own results? If we do, what would it look like?

Taking a page from triple-bottom line reporting, it might look something like the graphic below, with the core spheres and their guiding principles, with of course some cross-over between them. As with traditional corporate social responsibility, we’re not legally mandated to adhere to these principles but when we do, we contribute to sustainable well-being of our society and world for today and future generations.

PersonalCSR2

To assess 2012 against this model and set goals for the year ahead, here are some possible questions to ask or examples to identify:

Societal:

  • What specific networking actions helped others? When did you tap into your network for support? (Did you “take” more than “give”?)
  • Did you mentor or provide support to someone at an earlier stage in their career?
  • How did you connect with and nurture relationships with your family and close friends?
  • How did you volunteer or “give back” locally, professionally or even globally? How much time, in-kind support or resources did you provide?
  • Did you treat co-workers, staff and management fairly and ethically? When you had to make hard business decisions, did you take the most humane and respectful route? What could you have done better?

Personal:

  • Did you take steps to optimize your health through diet, exercise, sleep, medical check-ups and other recommended practices? Did you meet (or approach) your fitness goals for the year?
  • Did you feel like you made a viable contribution at work and home this year? Did your efforts make a difference beyond your organization or could they?
  • Did you challenge yourself to learn new skills and what level of mastery did you reach?
  • Did you take a course or tap other resources to expand your knowledge? What were the 3 most important things you learned?
  • How engaged were you within and outside your workplace? At what points did you feel particularly valued, respected or part of a community?
  • What did you do that was particularly innovative or creative this year (at work or elsewhere)?
  • What were your 3 most noted achievements? What goals are carrying over to next year?

To dig deeper in this sphere, you may want to check Eileen Chadnick’s 12 questions to get the jump on the year ahead, which appeared in the Globe and Mail or  Finding Meaning at Work Even if your Job is Dull , a recent HBR post.

Financial:

  • Did you meet your personal compensation goals for the year (in terms of salary, bonus and other perks)?
  • Did you maximize your investment opportunities and take full advantage of RSPs, tax-free savings accounts, RESPs and other financial savings options? Where could you improve?
  • If you had a budget, did you stick to it or where did you go astray?
  • Did you research, compare costs to make sensible purchasing decisions? (Did you pay $100 or more on anything you quickly regretted?)
  • Did you make ethical financial choices personally and at work (where applicable)? If relevant, did you practice good governance at work?

Environmental:

  • Did you reduce, recycle and reuse items within your home this year and if so, how much?
  • Do you know your personal or family’s carbon footprint and what did you do to reduce it in your daily lifestyle? (If not, you may want to measure it through zerofootprint and set a reduction plan for 2013. Alternatively, you can calculate your footprint and amount to offset it at BC’s Lifestyle Carbon Calculator.)
  • Did you support any community efforts to improve the environment? (If not, what is your community doing to reduce its environmental impact and what role might you play in the coming year?)

Put this into a carefully crafted instrument and we could have a personal scorecard to measure our year, as well as identify imbalances and growth opportunities for the coming year.

Caveat: Please note, I’m not a professional coach and don’t profess to be one. I’m posing these questions simply to scratch the surface on how we might want to consider integrating CSR practices and sustainable thinking into our own lives.