Q: How has the shift in focus from driving shareholder value to delivering stakeholder value affected corporate communications?
A: Today’s corporate communicators have a bold new challenge: how to communicate doing well by doing good.
A greater focus on a corporation’s role in delivering value not just to shareholders but to everyone they touch — customers, employees, partners and the community — requires the corporate communicator to consider more audiences.
Corporate communicators now must think beyond areas like profit or business expansion to how goods and materials are sourced, how employees are treated, and impact on the community. To do so successfully, they now must make statements of belief to publicly share what they believe as well as commitments to upholding these beliefs or making progress toward these beliefs.
These corporate belief statements must translate into real, measurable actions and activities. However, staking out positions comes with risks. The biggest risk is mismanaging trust. Building trust means you can be counted on to do what you say, and maintaining trust requires an ongoing dialogue with your stakeholders.
Today’s corporate communicators must now help manage the relationships between these stakeholders and understand that the words, images and ideas they promote must be backed up by verifiable action. Corporate communicators now must have a better internal operational understanding to ensure corporate words are indeed backed by actions. And if communicators witness things that aren’t aligning words and actions, they must serve as sentinels to the truth to maintain trusting relationships.
This newer sentinel role may require communicators to speak on behalf of multiple stakeholders. They must be willing to share not only success stories but also hard truths that may require frank discussions of when the organization has fallen short.
The good news is both leading public relations groups in the U.S., the Public Relations Society of America and the International Association of Business Communicators, have well-established guidelines to help corporate communicators determine how to communicate well when doing good.
Paul Omodt is on faculty at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.