Corporate Communications Professionals – Why are we Here?

All a bit zen, perhaps, but a germane question nonetheless. For almost all of my lengthy journey through this vale of tears that we call Public Relations, and sometimes Corporate Affairs, and at other times, Corporate Relations and, mostly, Corporate Communications, I have been plagued with doubts. (And if this sounds kinda religious, well, it is – remind me to give you my views on Corporate Religion sometime soon.) Doubts about why our profession (for such it is) actually exists, about the value it adds and about why, in effect, we are here.

And I know that there are myriad answers. Protecting reputation, supporting sales, influencing behaviour, building relationships, limiting issues – all these things can be laid at our door, but still the HR professional on my shoulder says ‘If you weren’t there, would it matter? And look at how much money we’d save!’ OK, that last phrase is what I imagine a small HR Professional might say, once he/she realised that perhaps the Communications function doesn’t add as much as maybe it would have the rest of the company believe.

Don’t get me wrong, generally I brush off these doubts – I am a firm believer in the visible and tangible benefits of good communications – and if I weren’t, I wouldn’t be doing it – but every now and then, one comes across an example that puts it all into context. An example that demonstrates exactly why we’re here and what our role is. What I would like to call the ‘No F***ing Way’ skill set.

Today, therefore, I offer you two examples for your delight and delectation. One extremely high profile, one that I came across by accident.

Example 1. All I really need say is ‘Gordon Brown’ and ‘YouTube’. Who thought it was a good idea for Gordon Brown to appear in a videoclip, gurning like an idiot? Not that the gurning was the worst of it. No, the worst of it was that someone thought it was a good idea, the same someone – or a different someone – actually went out and made the videoclip and then the same someones – or a third someone – approved it for posting on YouTube. Cue global merriment and further damage to an already tarnished reputation.

Where was the communicator whose job it is to say ‘No F***ing Way’? Come on people, that’s our role! This is why we exist! To stop those in our care making really, really stupid communications mistakes. Oh – this, of course, pre-supposes that you can spot the mistakes before it’s too late. And if you can’t, well, you might wish to consider an alternative career. Something with numbers, perhaps?

Example 2. A long story which I will cut short. Starbucks. Big global brand, interacts with millions of people each day. Divides opinion. Those who use its facilities develop – weirdly – a sense of ‘ownership’. Set up blogs and online fora to discuss it. One such forum is here, and here’s the example I’m talking about:

Yes, Matt Murray (sorry Matt, if you’re still there, name and shame, name and shame) a self-styled communications specialist with Starbucks, responded to a thread about a Frappuccino (is that how you spell it?) price increase. Nothing wrong with that. What was wrong – so, so wrong – was his use of language. He even wrote “on behalf of Starbucks, I wanted to reach out to you….” – no, no and thrice no, Matt. The phrase “reach out” is hardly acceptable within the confines of a big corporate’s marketing department and wholly – wholly – unacceptable in everyday conversation (for that is what an online forum is) with normal people.

I personally don’t think Matt is terribly senior. But I am presuming that his response is part of Starbucks’ digital media strategy, and thus it was approved by someone. And that someone, clearly, was lacking the essential ‘No F***ing Way’ skillset.

While there are examples of sheer numptiness like this still going on, there will always be a valuable and value-adding role for the corporate communications professional. And as one, I shall continue to point them out when I find them. It is my duty – nay it is OUR duty – to keep saying ‘No F***ing Way’.

This is one of the ways that our profession will get the recognition it deserves and the all-important seat at the top table. Oh, and it might deflect the attentions of the HR Professionals, in these tough times, as well.

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