Surviving the day, hoping nothing gets leaked, being on the wrong side of the debate, obfuscating, denying, hiding, playing PR whack-a-mole… There has got to be a better way to represent your corporate interests.
There will have to be a better way. The old world of PR and corporate reputation management is dying before our eyes. Driven by new technology, the end of deference it spawned, and the incredible strengthening of individual and collective voices through social media platforms – it is increasingly impossible for the centre of any organisation to command and control.
Two recent examples suffice. Euan Sutherland at The Co-operative Group was aghast that a member of the Board would leak his pay deal – a deal in which a cooperative organisation would pay him more than most PLCs! There have always been leaks. But now they are on an industrial scale – because they are easy and because, like Edward Snowden, you get lauded for them.
The second example is the Long Live Southbank campaign, waged by a bunch of skateboarding kids, whose trousers defy gravity just as their four-wheeled tricks, who out-manoeuvred and outplayed the corporate might and £million plans of the Southbank Centre. All you need is a website and a bit of imagination – and David can beat Goliath.
These are straws in the wind of a world in which there are no straight lines, no enemies – just alliances to be negotiated and renegotiated (the skateboarders teamed up with Boris Johnson, remember). A world in which it is impossible to spin your way out. The hackers, bloggers, leakers, whistleblowers and activists now know one thing – eventually they will get you. The only thing that stands still are your values – what do you believe in?
That means a close evaluation of what you do and how you do it. Can you defend what you do in the court of public opinion, which has now exploded to include everyone, everywhere because of the internet and social media?
This doesn’t mean that every company has to become a social enterprise and the hippies have won. It is to recognize that there is a profound difference between being commercial, innovative and making a reasonable profit, versus the maximization of profits at all costs and the endless accumulation of capital.
Winning, in this fast-emerging future, will not be a zero-sum game. Yes companies will compete, but they will collaborate and share too – maybe more so – because these are the culture rules and norms of a world being flattened by technology. Profit and social purpose can be compatible – indeed, they have to be if we are to survive a world in which widespread food riots in the west are predicted and the floods are already here.
Those that try and retrench and deny the world is changing will be found out because today there are so many ways to be found out. The Spike Lee film said ‘do the right thing’ – do it, or they will get you.