Forget the silly "cede control" stuff, as well as all the endless vacuous "conversation" and intimate virtual "relationships" with the populace mob. Hold that thought. Among the fundamental flaws in this messianic Me2Revolution hoopla head-up-your-ass Kool-Aid-induced blog fad, probably the worst is that everyone in your organization is now a spokesperson. What complete and utter nonsense. This week we saw a prime example. A chatty effervescent junior junior at the PR firm Thornley Fallis made his firm and its veritable eagle scout CEO Joe Thornley look like a ridiculous lightweight (pictured right).
When any sober CEO is presented with the idea of this multi-headed asynchronous talking hydra, here's what they imagine: The creepy Fascist security guy Dominic, Crying Mary in accounting, Pothead Mike from Creative Services and Julio the maintenance man, all unscripted on the conference call representing the company at the Quarterly Earnings Report. Oh yes... and with license to say just whatever comes to mind first. That, by definition, is organizational Tourettes.
Why? Because to imagine that the mob thinks and acts with ANY sense of coordination or pre-thought is ridiculous. To that staccato, add that today disciplined thinking is OUT. Free unbridled real-time expression and ungrounded opinion is king. Forget "children should be seen and not heard.” Today, if you don't know what you're talking about, well... then blog it, of course. Today, we live in a society where any opinion from anyone about anything is as good as anyone else's opinion. Perception trumps reality. Forget quality; we just want more. Pump the volume!
Well, that is until the CEO has to bear the consequence of junior's statements. Richard Edelman surely rolls his eyes at some of the things Rick Murray says let alone Rubel, all while poppa Dan shakes his head at his liberal rod-sparing son.
I barely even work in PR anyway - I mostly answer the phone and eat a bag lunch.
I’m not going to pretend that I have a higher PR IQ than, well, anyone.
Oh, and I’m in my eighth month [in PR] now.
I really have no qualification to write anything on the subject of PR at all, especially for the Blog Herald (and get paid for it!).
Another reason PR professionals aren’t catching on with social media: nobody is teaching them! Personally, this is my biggest issue. Working in my office, everyone is expected to “get it” but nobody takes the time to teach anyone what “it” is.
Excuse me! Chris represents Thornley Fallis. That's the firm talking!
Here’s an entertaining 20-second video clip that makes a memorable point.
Imagine your organization with 1,000 Billys. The real question is: Who gave Billy the microphone in the first place? Well, in the case of Thornley Fallis, it was Joe Thornley himself. According to a colleague here who spoke with Joe, he said that he actually “encourages Chris to express himself independently.”
Bottom line: what does that say? Like a Richard Edelman, if you screw up the communications of your own communications firm, why in bloody hell should anyone hire you to represent their valuable property? Add to that the Internet makes this kind of mistake indelible.
Can companies afford corporate Tourettes? Better yet, can they afford the risk of hiring a PR firm that believes it's a good thing?
Joe? You want Chris to answer that?
THORNLEY’S RESPONSE 1/15/07: “That’s the reason my blog carries a disclaimer, ‘This blog site is published by and reflects the personal views of its author(s).’ I want people to know that I stand behind my comments personally. Of course, the company is a reflection of the people who work at it. So, while people (including me) are not speaking for the company, we cannot avoid linkages being made.”
HELLO! Joe is now claiming that on his company blog he does not necessarily speak for the company that bears his name. WILL SOMEONE PLEASE KILL ME!
You know, when I think about quitting Strumpette every so often; that’s why. The insanity and naivety of Joe's statement is absolutely incurable.
Now it’s time to set off a few firecrackers: PR (at least from the business world) fails when it forces too much attention on corporate social responsibility (or CSR for those who prefer acronyms to English).
CSR is the catch-phrase that encompasses the notion of what Oz’s Wizard referred to as “good-deed doing,” in which the corporate world shows it has a heart and a conscience by getting involved in a variety of socially relevant activities such as volunteerism, philanthropy, sponsorship of nonprofits, and so forth. On the agency side, this might involve taking on pro bono accounts (usually involving smaller nonprofits) with the plan of using PR connections to raise awareness of some socially, culturally or even spiritually relevant cause.
On the surface, it seems like a wonderful idea. But from a PR standpoint, CSR has become an inane distraction which ultimately never serves its purpose because it is grounded in a basic flaw: calling attention away from the corporation’s mission with fluffy news and self-congratulatory accolades concerning isolated actions of good citizenship.
Reality check: CSR is a defense mechanism that gets set up when a corporation and/or its leaders begin to generate seriously rotten PR. Of course, responsible corporations don’t need to blow their own horns on how great they are because anyone operating in an ethical and moral manner already has the respect of their customers and investors.
Consider, as an example, the case of Ford Motor Company, which issued a glowing press release in late 2006 noting it had been “rated among the top 25 companies in the world in corporate social responsibility reporting by ‘Tomorrow’s Value: The Global Reporters.’ Ford is the only automaker among the top 25 of the 50 companies demonstrating best practices in corporate social responsibility.”
“Tomorrow’s Value” is a corporate sustainability report developed by the combined efforts of the United Nations Environment Program, Standard & Poor’s and SustainAbility Ltd. Ford was honored for being “the first in the automotive industry to develop, implement and report a Code of Basic Working Conditions.”
Ironically, that press release was distributed around the same time when Autoblog reported that “Ford is looking to rid itself of 10,000 of its 38,500 salaried workers by 2008” by using buyouts or involuntary layoffs.
Really, is there a point in having a Code of Basic Working Conditions if tens of thousands of people are being cut from their jobs? Where’s the social responsibility when mass layoffs have damaging effects on the regional economies that relied on the company’s presence as an employer, especially in Michigan?
A few companies have always operated by trumpeting how wonderful they are in regard to social responsibility – Ben & Jerry’s and The Body Shop were ubiquitous (and, ultimately, emetic) in reminding us what good citizens they were. Ultimately, such PR shenanigans didn’t help their respective bottom lines.
From the C-Suite perspective, CSR is bad for business since it diverts time, energy and resources from more important functions. Betsy Atkins, CEO of Baja Ventures, a venture capital firm concentrating on technology and life sciences, was perhaps the most eloquent in her summary of the fallacy of CSR in an essay from the November 28, 2006 edition of Forbes Magazine:
“The concept of corporate social responsibility deserves to be challenged. It seems that political correctness has obfuscated the important business points. It is absolutely correct to expect that corporations should be ‘responsible’ by creating quality products and marketing them in an ethical manner, in compliance with laws and regulations and with financials represented in an honest, transparent way to shareholders. However, the notion that the corporation should apply its assets for social purposes, rather than for the profit of its owners, the shareholders, is irresponsible.
The corporation’s goal is to act on behalf of its owners. The company’s owners--its shareholders--can certainly donate their own assets to charities that promote causes they believe in. They can buy hybrid cars to cut back on fossil fuel consumption or support organizations that train the hard-core unemployed. But it would be irresponsible for the management and directors of a company, whose stock these investors purchased, to deploy corporate assets for social causes.”
Where PR people should be active in regard to CSR is the exact place where they are often absent: in the Investor Relations side of things. Sister Patricia Wolf, executive director of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (an international coalition of 275 faith-based institutional investors) told me that she never deals with PR people whenever there is an issue of curious corporate activities – she goes straight to the CEOs. The absence of PR professionals from the IR ranks (particularly in targeting the growing socially responsible investing sector) would suggest that too many PR people have no clue how to approach CSR.
CSR, from an American PR perspective, has become an irritating distraction that is so overpowering that some companies even devote resources to creating special reports detailing just what wonderful corporate citizens they are. That kind of nonsense doesn’t fool anyone – particularly the socially responsible institutional investors who are more interested in deeply ingrained problems of corporate malfeasance and dubious business practices (especially in distant countries where companies or their subcontractors exploit the local working classes). And that’s where CSR fails miserably in most cases: it becomes so obsessed with highlighting happy news (no matter how trivial) that it gets caught off-guard when socially responsible investors start agitating for change. That sector has $2.3 trillion in capital to invest and they don’t give a damn about touchy-feely publicity stunts. More often than not, PR officers wind up doing crisis control when the socially responsible investors want to see genuine examples of CSR and not the PR puffery.
If a company wants to get involved in some benevolent activity, like a walkathon or a mentoring program, there’s nothing wrong with that. Nor is there anything wrong with an isolated press release highlighting this activity. But getting carried away with an excessive PR campaign trumpeting foolish CSR is as valueless as the golden calf worshipped by our Biblical brethren – who, as punishment for genuflecting to the wrong deity, wound up getting Baaled.
(Phil Hall is the former president of Open City Communications, a New York PR agency, and former editor of PR News. His latest book “The New PR” will be released later this year from Larstan Publishing.)
On Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 7:41 AM, Ronn Torossian, President and CEO of 5WPR, emphatically promised that he was going to sue us. No real reason, he was just irritated by our teasing him about getting in bed with pornographer Joe Francis. Anyway, Ronn gave his obscenity-laced word that we'd see the complaint in 72 hours. It's now late by
Kathleen Durazo about A Measly $2.8 Million Goes Missing, Lawsuit Results Fri, Jul 31, 10:58:34 AM Ray Durazo (the founder) sold the company to Dan in 1999. He was not involved in any of this. He (and I) found out about the lawsuit in the LA Times. In addition to embezzling this m [...]