Richard Branson has, for many, been the antidote to the sterility that invariably characterises corporate communications. His recently launched ‘teddy tracker’ on Virgin Trains is typical Branson – personal, savvy and distinctly, un-corporate.
I bring this up as those outside my work life often ask me what is meant by corporate communications. It’s a good question as it invariably throws up a range of answers from my professional peers, with the notions of ‘brand’ and ‘reputation’ being central to most responses.
What interests me is less about definition, however, and more about the implementation and this is where we come back to Branson, who has for some time recognised the lasting and positive impact of the un-corporate approach. Let me stop it there and add that I don’t preach a carefree approach to the books and nor would Sir Richard. No, this is essentially about re-setting the corporate state of mind and having business be more like us, the public – talk like us, behave like us and look like us.
I fully recognise this is not new – and the explosion that is social media – has done much to readjust the relationship between companies and their many stakeholders. Social media initiated a new era of informality, which has been skillfully managed by the smartest organisations to deepen relationships with their consumers.
However, it needs to go further. For one, business leaders need to free themselves from the corporate speak that distances them from their stakeholders; the highly effective plain talkers are still the exception. The content corporates produce needs to relinquish a degree of control; fundamentally, they need to loosen the tie.
Again, this is not altogether new – some sectors, notably retail, have been demonstrating their expertise in this area for some time. I do, though, think it a timely message. The scars of the global financial crisis are still fresh; the bruises still livid, but I urge corporates to put off the urge to revert to type – to go back to their previous incarnations because it’s what they know. Now is the time to demonstrate they have changed – modern, inclusive businesses that take a genuine interest in all their stakeholders, and not retreat behind those corporate walls.
Peter Roberts is vice president & head of Corporate at Weber Shandwick Australia