I am honored to be the keynote presenter today at the PR News 2009 CSR Awards at the National Press Club in DC. The awards program has been running since 2005 with an ever broadening range of awards categories. It is much broader than the PR News title might lead you to expect.
In my keynote I am addressing how we can rebuild trust in business. All the trust surveys aside, I find it most notable that three of this year’s Oscar best picture nominations, Avatar, District 9 and Up in the Air have large corporations as their main protagonists. Each of these corporations is portrayed as distant and as societally and environmentally oblivious. If this represents the public perception of corporations, and I think it does, we have a long way to go.
Authenticity is key to trust. We judge whether a person is authentic by the consistency with which they apply their values. I imagine people judge corporations in the same way.
So if we express our values through our community investment, then to substantiate our authenticity, we need to be consistent in applying those values to our core business; our products, our employees, our customers and our public voice as expressed in our brands, advertising and lobbying. My challenge is to the CR practitioner, myself included, is to increase the proportion of time spent in the core business.
I also see a key role for community investment, not just as an end in itself but as a means to increasing sensitivity and awareness amongst our employees that they can take back and incorporate into their jobs. Volunteering is especially important from this perspective. But beware, community investment can undermine authenticity if we do not follow through and apply the same values in our core business.
Lastly, I see a role for social networking to bridge that perceived distance between the company and the stakeholders. Frank and engaging exchanges with corporate executives, as demonstrated by Bill Marriott of Marriott and by Tom Glocer of Thomson Reuters, and with our employees, can be one of the best ways to demonstrate authenticity and to bridge the perceived distance between the stakeholder and the corporation.
Please let me know what you think of these ideas.