BRUSSELS--Lord Stephen Carter, the Alcatel-Lucent CMO who previously served as Gordon Brown’s strategy chief, has called for the PR profession to overcome its “crisis of confidence”.
Carter made the comments at today’s European Communications Summit (ECS) in Brussels, in front of more than 500 senior communications directors from across the region.
In a speech on leadership, Carter said that PR people needed to make their point of view heard. “I don’t know why it is that people in PR have a crisis of confidence about being in PR,” said Carter.
He also pointed out that renaming PR roles as “strategic communications” was a “rebranding exercise that hasn’t really worked.”
“And it misses the point,” added Carter. “You’ve got an opinion that’s really valuable.”
Elucidating a clear point of view, said Carter, is something that has helped companies like Google, Facebook and Apple stand apart from their competitors.
“I don’t think they need to be gratuitous opinions, but they need to be rewarding and provocative.”
Carter took up the role of EVP and chief marketing, strategy & communication officer at Franco-American telecoms supplier Alcatel-Lucent one year ago, after quitting government in 2009. He lasted just eight months as Gordon Brown’s strategy chief, before being put in charge of the Digital Britain report.
Prior to joining Government, Carter rose to the position of CEO at ad agency JWT, leaving in 2000 to run, in succession, NTL and Ofcom, before spending two years as CEO of Brunswick.
He began his ECS speech by pointing out that he was an “accidental comms professional.”
“I’m not a comms professional, I’ve never been one,” stated Carter. “I’ve been in lots of businesses and run lots of businesses where comms has been central.”
“Often the first task of comms is simply to get heard,” he added. “Your job is to make the rest of the world as interested as your colleagues are. For the rest of the world, it’s not that interesting.”
Carter then discussed 12 “considerations” that companies must keep in mind if they hope to communicate effectively. On public disclosure, for example, he said that there are two possible positions: “You say nothing or you say everything.”
“We live in a world of co-creation, and you don’t control it,” said Carter. “Don’t try and do that hiding thing. It rarely works.”
However, he warned against an over-reliance on advisors. “I’m a great believer that advisors are very, very important. I also believe they are limited,” he claimed. “Preparation and professional advice is critical. But you can never outsource it.”
Explaining further, Carter pointed out that he left his own position at an agency because “actually I like making decisions”. “Advisors are important, but at the end they do not make the final judgement call.”
Carter also touched upon his political past, and said he has had “two lives.” “Being a leader in public life is very different to being a leader in commercial life. Running a company is a walk in the park by comparison.”