Arun Sudhaman 22 Mar 2012 // 12:00AM GMT
NEW YORK--The Arthur W. Page Society’s new corporate communications model calls for a renewed emphasis on corporate character, to enable CCOs to spur advocacy and move beyond a focus on shaping opinions or changing perceptions.
The model is the culmination of five years of research by the Society, which represents CCOs in the US and globally, and follows the 2007 publication of the influential ‘Authentic Enterprise’ document.
In a video speech to delegates at its Spring Seminar in New York today, Society chairman Jon Iwata said that the new model reflected “profound changes in the way businesses and citizens interact.”
“This is the defining phenomenon of our time,” added Iwata, who is also SVP of marketing and communications at IBM.
In an interview with the Holmes Report, GE VP of comms and public affairs Gary Sheffer, who sits on the Society’s executive board, pointed out that negative perceptions of business have hindered efforts to drive advocacy among decision-makers such as customers, employees, investors and regulators.
“We’re in a world where business is viewed dimly, and for good reason in a lot of cases,” said Sheffer. “It’s up to us to earn trust.”
Sheffer added that by focusing on the principles outlined in the new study, companies would be able to give people a more easily accessible idea of what they stand for.
“Even for millennials, who are looking for something more than the bottomline, they will be able to understand the organisation they might want to join and spend a career at better than they have in the past, where success was measured more by the financials of the organization,” said Sheffer.
The ‘Building Belief’ model first calls for CCOs to lead the definition of corporate character, which refers to the values that set a company apart from its peers. In an era of unprecedented transparency, one CCO interviewed for the study noted that “how we are is who we are.”
CCOs are then encouraged to “activate” corporate character by ensuring the enterprise consistently behaves in a manner consistent with these values. The model proposes a framework for determining whether the company “looks like, sounds like, thinks like and performs like its stated character.”
“A more difficult job is activating the character across the enterprise,” said Iwata. “As you move across the spectrum, there must be a deeper degree of collaboration with human resources, sales, customer service, product development and beyond.”
Secondly, the model advises CCOs to build what it calls ‘advocacy at scale’, in response to the dramatic changes in word-of-mouth and peer-to-peer communication.
“The goal is not merely to change the opinion or perception of individuals but to spur them to act and advocate,” explained Iwata. “While the few will always influence the many, we are now in a world where the many influence many more.”
This part of the equation makes explicit mention of the ability to extract actionable insights from the deluge of consumer data that is now being created. As Sheffer points out, CCOs must be able to persuade CEOs of the importance of listening.
“That’s the change you have to describe to them - that you have to listen more,” said Sheffer. “You listen inside, externally, engage with NGOs. For the CCO, our jobs are all about listening - you have to listen to a broader audience.”
Sheffer admitted that companies will not always be able to create shared belief with opponents. “It’s OK if people disagree with us, as long as they respect the validity and the authenticity of your position,” he said. “If I can bring an authentic argument in a transparent way to a conversation, at least they will respect our organisation. The goal is to help people understand who you are.”
Another goal, said Sheffer, is to ensure the model gets traction with other C-suite executives, most notably the CEO.
“When you talk to senior execs now, they know the world is changing - how information is consumed and how it is created - they know it’s changing but they are not sure how and what they should do about it,” he said. “A new model only works if you can walk into your C-suite and say, ‘here’s what we’re going to do, and here’s the value the organisation is going to get out of it from an investor standpoint, a customer standpoint, a regulatory standpoint’.”
“If we roll this out right, it gives senior executives the opportunity to make decisions that position the organisation well within that environment.”
The study concludes by listing the skills required of CCOs to implement the model. They must be able to integrate across the C-suite; design operational systems; master data analytics; work as a publisher and developer; study behavioural science; and, curate corporate character.