Communicating beyond business

In the month of August 2019, the Business Roundtable (an association of CEOs of America’s largest companies) announced the release of a new Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation. More than 175 CEOs committed to lead their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders.

This created big buzz and was covered by all newspapers. The statement is a significant shift from the earlier purpose of the corporation that laid emphasis on shareholder primacy. Profits was always the underlying mantra for a business to exist.  Who can forget the famous quote of the late economist Milton Friedman – ‘The business of business is business.’ For over 50 years, it has been the business philosophy that has always governed the purpose of a corporation. Until now.

Why is this of significance to communicators?

A key area of messaging for communicators is the purpose/mission and vision of the organisation. Most of the messages revolve around this philosophy. Translating business purpose into key communication messages is an art. It calls for relentless working with business leaders and breaking down the purpose to a meaningful statement that will resonate with your stakeholder/audience. 

When the purpose of business changes, communicators need to shift the needle of discussion and ensure it revolves around the new statement.

Business beyond business

The importance of the social implication with this redefined purpose statement cannot be undermined. Making positive change through corporate social responsibility or sustainable business practices involve high degree of innovation and creative ideas that go beyond charity. Communicators play a crucial role in being part of this brainstorming exercise. Whatever products your organisation may offer will need to pass through the test of the social impact it creates. That by itself changes the game for communicators.

For example, if you are a communicator associated with an automobile industry, your fundamental messaging will revolve around product safety. You will need to think from your conscience as well.

Doing good is good business sense

Communicators are the custodian of brand reputation. They know that doing good makes for good business sense and it upholds the organisational reputation. What is equally important is ensuring that the organisation does no wrong. Transparency and openness in communication drives the reputation index for any organisation. As businesses evolve taking into consideration community needs, communicators will need to adapt their messages accordingly.

Staying relevant

As businesses now work on this paradigm shift, staying relevant becomes central to their very existence. Organisations will need to balance profit growth with societal impact and sentiment. Communicators will need to keep their ears close to the ground to capture any murmurs or voices of dissent that has the potential to impact the long term reputation of the business. It will fall on them to sensitise the management and leaders of such threats and work in tandem for developing the most appropriate communication strategy. The narrative, while it will dovetail the business imperatives, will also have to convey the heart and soul of the business.

Upskill yourself

With the aim to flourish in this new changing world, communicators will need to ensure proper resource allocation in terms of people, evolving messages, time and most importantly, knowledge. You will need to brush up your own understanding of this definition and what it means for your organisation overall. You may even need to upskill yourself with sustainability shenanigans so as to not to fall into the trap of mere ‘green wash.’ 

The issues facing the world today are many – what will it be that your organisation choses? Climate change? Efficient water management? Discarding use of plastics in packaging? Soil degradation? As a business communicator you can bring in tremendous value by contributing meaningfully to this discussion and identifying the right problem for which your business can meaningfully find solutions for. Thereafter will flow your new communications strategy.

Sarita Bahl
Sarita Bahl is an alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Swedish Institute of Management Program. An experienced and versatile leader, she comes with nearly four decades of professional experience. She has over the years successfully overseen the communications and public affairs function and led the corporate social responsibility strategy for Bayer South Asia, Pfizer, and Monsanto, among others. Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, the public sector, trade associations, MNCs, and the not-for-profit sector. Her areas of interest include advocacy, stakeholder engagement, sustainability, and communications.

As an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) from the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and Senior Practitioner (Mentoring) from the European Council of Mentoring and Coaching (EMCC), Sarita specializes in career transition, inner engineering and life issues. Sarita enjoys writing and is passionate about animals, books, and movies.

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