Performance with purpose can get business out of its funk
A lack of trust is fueling the current relationship between business and society. UTC’s race to assure its investors in the Trinidad and Tobago market that their money was safe last week was hinged on the catastrophic economic events of September 2008, events that undermined the confidence in the private sector’s ability to self-regulate.
Then last year and earlier this year there emerged the crisis in organisational leadership and reputation as some of the largest and well regarded companies in the world: energy (BP) and transport (Toyota) suffered blows to their reputation that few could have predicted. Couple that with the now well known scandalous practices of the fat cat CEOs and their cronies no wonder that public mistrust is so high. Indeed in the race for public credibility no one seems up to the task of taking the moral and ethical high ground; government seems an unfit replacement as the leader in the dance.
In all the murkiness there is a role for the public relations professional. Who else can advocate for a stakeholder approach, or engage with non-traditional partners (such as NGOs) to enable solutions that serve private and public interests. Who else to engage with employees in a transparent manner, being clear in reporting about timelines and corporate commitments? Consumers need not to be talked down to about responsibility and sustainability, they need to be engaged. Who else but the professional PR practitioner to encourage them on the mutually beneficial journey?
All this is easier said than done of course but there are encouraging signs that communication professionals are fighting mightily for their CSR projects not to be placed on the corporate chopping board. We continue to make the case that the only way to do business in a climate of mistrust and suspicion is to pursue socially acceptable goals in a socially acceptable manner. Yes, yes the social logic of values almost always has to linked to an economic logic of resource maximization, but in the end the hope is that society benefits.
There are a couple of outstanding and pioneering projects that can be lauded. Guardian Life’s efforts to save the Trinidad Piping Guan (PAWI) an endangered bird in Trinidad and consequently the habitat where thy are found takes a small crew to the most remote parts of the country, building community relations, educating villagers about the importance of its preservation and forming sustainable eco-projects around it. Clorox Brita’s FilterForGood campaign inspires consumers – and communities – to take a personal pledge and even engage in (planet) healthy competition with others to reduce their bottled-water use, as well as informs them about other environmentally-friendly decisions that each can personally make. Technology giant Microsoft has committed 10 years and almost 500 million dollar to its global Partners in Learning project aimed at helping teachers and school leaders connect, collaborate, create, and share so that students can realise their greatest potential.
There are many other notable initiatives all pointing to the fact that performance with purpose may be the key way communicators can begin to help build back trust.