I had the great honor of providing a commentary in this morning’s Washington Post, “Action, Not Just Words.” The Washington Post article was based on a Buzz Bin post critiquing the Board of Trade for spinning DC as a green city. There’s more at play here than just green PR.
Command and control organizational cultures believe that spin works and that perception is reality. Instead they must change to meet the times, and learn that conversations with the public must be backed by substance. Companies and organizations need to walk their talk.
Current studies indicate politicians and organizations suffer from incredible lack of public trust. Consider that the latest polls have Congressional approval ratings at 20 percent. Bush’s approval rating is at 24 percent. Only 22 percent of Americans trust corporate leaders.
It comes down to a combination of ethos (profits versus society) and spin. We’re in a strange time where the media environment continues to move towards two-way channels, enabling the public to effectively question organizations. Fractured media environments allow for the widespread word-of-mouth dissemination of information, forcing accountability into corporate communications.
Yet companies and organizations are still acting as if they are in an era of mass communications. Command and control, spin, and hype seem to take precedence over substance. This needs to change if we are ever going to turnaround the public’s view of our companies and governing organizations.
The Need for Change
Executives, marketing pros and PR execs alike must acknowledge that the world has moved beyond mass communications. Authenticity and facts mean more than saying what people “want to hear.” Ultimately, people would rather see the flaws than find out political PR types and corporate marketers have manipulated them.
To ensure strong brands, companies and organizations have to ensure their promises have actual weight. Brands are communicated in three ways:
When the experience does not match the communicated brand promise, trust evaporates. It’s hard to trust anything or anybody that cannot do what they say.
These statements may seem like an old saw to some. Yet, it seems that we need to repeatedly discuss these issues to change the marketing profession for the better.
Now more than ever, organizations must walk before they talk. They must ensure that their communications have actual substance. Otherwise, organizations will continue to reinforce the general distrust that America’s public feels towards them.
This extends beyond green PR into all facets of business and life. In the tech sector, the dot com era was caused by over hype without substance. Are we going to learn the lesson, or recreate venture backed 2.0 bombs? Will reform cause special interests to lose their hold in Washington or will politicians continue to sell their soul?
The future is never certain. As the current movement towards user-generated media continues, distrust will certainly provoke change. Will corporate America and organizational communicators meet the challenge? Or will the downward spiral create a new group of socially-responsible companies better able to serve its customers? Probably a healthy mix of both.