Monday, 1 February 2010

Cutting through the B.S.

A friend and I last week were discussing how some people still think of PR along the lines of this -

or this...

or this...

The bows on shovels are soooo lame.

And while these do happen from time to time, the question remains...what happens after?

Too many times, companies do the requisite ribbon cutting or cheque handover, exchange handshakes and smiles with recipients of corporate goodwill, to never be seen or heard from again... until the next year rolls around and they do it all over again.

In my previous professional manifestation, it was my job to oversee some of these acts of corporate goodwill but not just hand over some money and send them on their way, but ensure accountability, transparency and most importantly, build meaningful relationships and partnerships with the recipients. I was on a first name basis with everybody and vice versa. They were not always the most hospitable folk either, and it was often a real challenge having to put up with them, during the week and God forbid, on the weekend. But this is all part of the relationship building process, isn't it? In any relationship, there will be good times and squabbles and we manage them to the best of our ability, because for better or worse, you need each other. I really did admire that about the work we did - as challenging as it could get, it still was more than lip service and often very rewarding from a personal and professional level.

I always found it easier to deal with some of the more negative challenges because I had formed and managed these relationships to a point where my partners in the community - because that is what they were - became part of my brand management team, for better or for worse. Through the relationships we had forged, I somehow managed to eke out from some of them a fierce loyalty to the company (in a perfect world, it would have been all of them, but let's be real - some people will always have their own agenda). But to be honest, in the end, I left with great friendships with some, and strong relationships with the majority.

GOOD corporate citizenship - one that continues long after the ribbon cutting ceremony - builds appreciation of your brand at a local level and on a broader scale. Benefits include:
  • Differentiation among similar organisations and competitive advantages.
  • More respect for organisational views, company more likely to be listened to.
  • Easier recruitment, improved morale, reduced staff turnover.
  • Enhancement and added value for the organisations products and/or services.
  • Strengthened information structure with society, with associated improved resources.
Community and society: corporate social responsibility (CSR)’ in ‘Exploring Public Relations’
(R. Tench, 2006)


And of course, as noted earlier when referring to employees as brand ambassadors, with new media, a good reputation can hit the skids instantaneously. Companies need to start living their brand - you cannot sell yourself as "caring", "committed to our communities", "a good corporate citizen" if there is none of that happening at the local level. You may be surprised as some companies find out, that after years of solid financial sponsorship, in the face of a public challenge, these same people, who shook your hand, smiled at your photographer and held on to the larger than life sized cheque, will be part of the voices raised against your brand. Money does not guarantee loyalty. People tend to be loyal to people. And quite frankly noone is interested in your short term acts of goodwill. Not the media, not customers, not investors. They are too run of the mill by now, lack interest and lack substance and fail to highlight the soul of an organisation.
PR practitioners must get rid of those oversized cheques and scissors and learn to manage and build on sponsorships - internally (this of course requires instilling a strong CSR culture within the organisation, cause the PR team just cannot do it alone) and externally - to leverage the benefits which come with them and start building relationships and stories which are meaningful, sustainable and add value to the brand and the bottom line.


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Thanks for your comments and questions!

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