For much of the past two decades, Royal Dutch Shell was a magnet for controversy, from the furor that surrounded the sinking of the Brent Spar in the North Sea to the outrage over the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa in Nigeria for his role in protesting the company’s activities there to more recent accusations of “greenwashing.” As a result, few large companies have devoted as much time and energy to understanding and improving the relationship between business and society and the importance of reputation.
That effort has involved many of the company’s senior leaders, not least chief executive Jeroen van der Veer, but for the past three-and-a-half years the person responsible for spearheading the company’s public relations efforts and reputation management internally and externally has been vice president of communications Björn Edlund.
Edlund joined Royal Dutch Shell in October 2005, after serving as head of communications for two other giant European companies in issues-rich environments—Sandoz (from 1992 to 1996) and ABB (from 1998 to 2005)—and spending two years running his own consultancy, where clients included Novartis, pharmaceutical company Schering, and Philip Morris Eastern Europe and Middle East.
Earlier, Edlund began his international career as a foreign correspondent with UPI and Reuters in Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. He began his public relations career in 1989, when he joined The Rowland Company.
At Shell, Edlund has been responsible for unifying the global communications function—creating a culture that communicates with one voice—and for strengthening the company’s local and regional communications capabilities and for pushing for greater transparency and openness. But perhaps most significantly, he had led a shift in the company’s communications strategy away from traditional advertising and into stakeholder engagement.
Shell had begun its Tell Shell initiative in 1998, becoming one of the first large, global corporations to actively invite people to post questions about its industry, but in recent years it has expanded on that effort with its Shell Dialogues, conducted in face-to-face settings and via the websites, providing ordinary citizens with a forum through which they can ask senior Shell executives about the company’s business and access reports, articles, videos and more.
As further indication of his commitment to social responsibility and engagement, Edlund co-founded the Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights, a multi-company project aimed at helping business incorporate human rights responsibilities in day-to-day practices. He is also a trustee of the Institute for Public Relations Research & Education, an international organization at the forefront of efforts to improve the measurement and evaluation of public relations and corporate reputation.