The world we live in today is very different from the one where we grew up and started our careers. The coronavirus pandemic has forever changed the way we work and conduct business, not only in the terms of the physical location of work but also in our ethics. Brands, leaders, and associates are increasingly realizing the importance of Wholistic Wellbeing – physical, emotional and spiritual – at the workplace and in the work practice.
We, public relations professionals, are not immune to this change and need to embrace it. The job of a PR professional is to build relations with the public, and these relationships are built on trust. Trust that one gains by sharing the correct and true information with people instead of peddling hyperboles and false promises. Now, more than ever, we need to ask whether we are compromising our personal values and beliefs by bending backwards for our brand. Here, I am going to suggest some simple ways in which we can achieve this.
Align your personal values with those of the brands you represent
We have been taught that “the client is always right.” But this message is fast losing its relevance as clients and brands are willing to expand their myopic view of the bottomline, and be more sensitized and responsible in their messaging.
Corporate history is rife with examples of how skilled PR machinery has successfully salvaged and preserved the reputation of brands who have been called out for unethical practices or promoting products that are damaging to the environment. Thankfully, this is changing.
In recent years, communication professionals working with some of the top retail brands have acknowledged the evolving consumer ecosystem and have engineered messages that empower the consumer to make healthier and safer choices in his/her life.
How do we do this? By asking questions. For example, is the product or service that we are promoting good for the planet and its people, including our loved ones? Would we encourage our children to buy this product or service? If the answer is no, then you need to rethink what you are doing as a communications professional.
As communicators, we set the agenda for society by tailoring and sending out messages for our publics. This is a significant responsibility with a far-reaching impact on our world. We need to send out messages that are positive and empowering. For this, communicators’ personal beliefs and values need to be aligned with those of the brands they represent. This is also vital for the PR industry at large as it will help elicit trust and respect from different stakeholders.
Respect the new conscious consumer
A 2020 report by Accenture showed that consumers have “dramatically evolved” and are making more conscious and responsible purchases – 61% of consumers are making more environmentally friendly, sustainable, or ethical purchases, the report said.
Today, consumers can recognize — and call out — sanitized messaging by brands; they often share reviews on social media and hold brands accountable for what they promise. The pandemic years, 2020-21, accelerated this shift while shaking up the prospects of entire industries. As brands weather the storm, communicators need to understand that spinning fantastical stories alone will not help keep brand value intact, let alone build on it.
Some communicators might ask, “This doesn’t concern me, why should I stick my neck out?” Well, here you need to take a step back and look at the very definition of public relations, which involves building healthy, trust-based relations with your publics. Only authentic, transparent, and consistent communication can help communicators build a real connection and trust with their audiences. We, as PR professionals, must personally question and stand for every piece of communication we send out on behalf of our client or brand we work for.
Inspire brands to change, to admit mistakes
Brands and leaders make mistakes all the time. It is our responsibility — and prerogative — as communicators to tell business leaders where they’re going wrong and how it can be fixed.
Communicators need to learn to say no to telling lies. And if your CEOs are honest, they will appreciate it and be willing to make necessary changes at the organizational level. This will earn you respect and a more prominent and powerful position in the boardroom.
However, if the brand/s are not willing to change, then leave them. This may sound drastic and extravagant, and finding another job that aligns with your belief system may take a long time, but believe me, it will be worth the wait. You will be happier and have a newfound, deeper respect for yourself. And your audience will recognize your efforts and reward you with their trust, loyalty and by becoming your champion.
Authored by Aditya Amit Gundh, head - corporate communications, RoundGlass.