History Is Watching: How Are You Advising Your Management Team?

Issue 21

If the role of the public relations adviser is to be the eyes, ears and conscience of an organisation, how are you advising your management team?

Public relations is a management discipline and rapid change within the political world is creating significant opportunity for practitioners.

Brexit and President Trump’s inauguration have signaled huge shifts in opinion and behaviour. Both have created significant public division in the UK and US.

Businesses need to understand what these developments mean for trade; what their stakeholders believe and want; and be absolutely clear about their purpose going forward.

No one is better placed to help than the strategic public relations adviser.

Standing up for what’s right

Now more than ever, brands need to think very carefully about their role within society.

Reputation management is a critical function for any organisation. At a time of political upheaval, if a company isn’t living its values, it will be judged against this.

As Professor Anne Gregory says in #FuturePRoof: “[Organisations] are being forced to re-think their purpose and how they gain and maintain their legitimacy not only with their immediate stakeholders, but to society more widely.”

A stirring response

Starbucks response to President Trump’s Muslim ban is an excellent example of an organisation prepared to defend its ethical credentials.

As part of a wider statement, Starbucks chair and CEO Howard Schultz sent the following message to employees and partners.

“We are living in an unprecedented time, one in which we are witness to the conscience of our country, and the promise of the American dream, being called into question.

“These uncertain times call for different measures and communication tools than we have used in the past. [We] will neither stand by, nor stand silent, as the uncertainty around the new Administration’s actions grows with each passing day.”

Driving in the wrong direction?

This move was in direct contrast to Uber, which flouted the New York Taxi Workers Alliance hour long strike at JFK Airport on 28 January, organized in protest at what the Alliance called an ‘inhumane and unconstitutional’ move by Trump.

Its move to capitalize on trade rather than stand side to side with others in the transport sector caused a tirade of outrage on Twitter and the introduction of a #deleteuber hashtag, which quickly went viral.

History is watching

As JK Rowling reminded Theresa May in advance of her trip to the US at the end of January, history is watching.

It’s a useful pointer for any public relations practitioner advising the C-Suite on the leadership role its organisation should play both internally and within society. It’s no longer acceptable not to have an opinion.

What will your and your employer’s – legacy be?

Within the CIPR and PRCA’s code of conduct, professionals are reminded of their duty to act with integrity, fairness and honesty. Mutual respect and inclusivity are an important part of this.

A key question to ask is where your organisation stands and whether it is prepared to defend its values or whether it is going to watch and do nothing. Sometimes there is no choice but to stand up and be counted.

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