Performance with purpose can get business out of its funk

Performance with purpose can get business out of its funk

General | Judette Coward-Puglisi

October 14, 2010

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.


One thought on “Performance with purpose can get business out of its funk

  1. Methinks the general lack of trust is very well placed. A lot of companies have simply proven themselves unworthy of trust. And PR and corporate communications do themselves a huge disservice by using their own personal reputations to prop up the reputations of some of these businesses. They risk tarnishing whatever trust they have personally built up with that company’s community.

    When people discover that what was shining was not gold but a glistening turd, it is very difficult for the more ethical (or "luckier") companies in the sector to escape the repercussions of the initial betrayal.

    I suspect that government is an unfit leader in the dance because of the perception that the leaders of government are unworthy of that trust. Largely because they rule by poll and not by standing for something. they believe in.

    It’s not a problem that somebody like Nelson Mandela has had. Or someone like Moqtada al Sadr in Iraq.

    The PR pros can advocate all they want for CSR programmes and suchlike, but unless that message is consistent and trustworthy from the top management to that company’s community.. waste of time. The executive management bubble does not help matters.

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