We live in a time of ‘changing narratives’, says FTI Consulting India’s Amrit Singh Deo

As the PR industry evolves, so too do the narratives we are surrounded by. Here are six "headlines" and what they mean to communicators:

Creative destruction

If the global economic system is going through a re-set, one would be naïve to assume that leaders can continue with the same script as before. It's not ‘business as usual’. Leaders cannot deliver the same lines of re-assurance as they have in the past, and expect a round of applause. It’s a different game and the script must change. Arguments will need to be re-framed. Defending creaky old business models in the face of competing examples of innovative breakthroughs is a sure way of driving your brightest minds to the next 'big thing'. The truth of a stable business model, falling margins, is already out and unless business leaders can communicate how their organisations are going to seize new opportunities - their employees and investors will tune out.

Arab Spring

Big is not necessarily strong, but it is unwieldy. Quick responses are not something associated with bureaucracies, which is what most business organisations end up becoming. Big Business may have risk management modules but rarely, any simulated training of high-risk situations. Poorly-crafted responses with the wrong tone do draw down goodwill. In times of urgency, if your narrative is lacking empathy or action-orientation, you'll fast sound like Marie Antoinette. Neglecting the tone of communication is perhaps a result of our over-reliance on emails and written communication. Read out the statement in front of a camera and you'll know what I mean. Overlooking tone and dismissing the emotive content of your critics with legalese is a risky move.

Black man in the White House

If you want to be a global corporation, behave like one. How many board members are there who don't come from the home country/India? What is the proportion of women amongst senior management? What kind of local hiring & training policies are in place? Diversity is a big one for culture building, a topic on the agenda of many CEOs. If ‘diversity’ isn’t priority on your organization's agenda and narrative, you're missing a significant change sweeping through the world. And you'll be held responsible for this deviance.

Climate change

ESG. It stands for Environment, Social, Governance. This is an investment parameter followed by over 1000 global institutional investors (representing US$ 35 trillion worth of investments) when they decide to invest in your company. ESG or its bandied relative CSR is more than green-wash. If you don't have a Sustainability/ESG/CSR standard, you're in trouble. Expect a lot of flak. From media, investors, employees, local communities and now, the regulator. Multi-stakeholder engagements and pronounced 'social character' of organizations is here to stay. It would be helpful if modern CEOs came by this realization, painlessly on their own. Otherwise, painful it shall be.

Too big to fail

David vs. Goliath is one of the most endearing stories that have stood the test of time. The victory of the underdog. You love it yourself and yet can't fathom how anguished customers always get more airtime and sympathizers than you do. You are the 'too big to fail' Goliath. That phrase smacks of arrogance, invincibility and a condescending attitude. Any sane person on the wrong side of this narrative has got to be worried. If your organization is giving signals of being un-sinkable, watch out for icebergs.  

Big data

Big data analytics is the treasure trove that will take your organization's digital strategy beyond Facebook 'like' campaigns. It’s the hot sauce that will transform your operations, customer service and brand equity. You could jump into it piece-meal, yes. But, I’d advise caution. It's one of those things that you need to prime your organization for, rather than spring on it. Prepare your senior management to take criticism constructively if you want your 'social media experiment' to move ahead. Build linkages with customer service and operations if you want to demonstrate business impact. But first, you must break the silos in your own head. Communications is not a publicity function under marketing; it is a cross-functional process for the achievement of business objectives. Using it as an advertising substitute is plain lazy.

The situations above are the result of a changed environment. As communicators and advisors, we have the opportunity to interpret changes and advise others on how best to re-frame their existing narratives.

We live in very interesting times already. Ni Hao!

By Amrit Singh Deo, Senior Vice President, Strategic Communications, FTI Consulting India