(from June 1 to August 1)

Peggy Brønn

2010-05-24 kl 14:26

I have been following the development of the Stockholm Accords and the subsequent discussion with interest and sharing it with my academic colleagues. I have also used some time on trying to understand the model, which I find problematic. It seems to me that the model is saying that if we coordinate all communication, then we have the basis for communicating internally, which gives us the basis for communicating externally, which provides the basis for management, which then provides the basis for governance. And by doing all of these things correctly/optimally/, etc. we have achieved organizational sustainability. Archie Carroll was ultimately criticized for his pyramid of social responsibiilty because the model made it seem like one thing followed the other as opposed to doing all at the same time — making money, following the law, being ethical and practicing philanthropy.
For example, governance is the basis on which everything should be based – it is arguably the foundation, as opposed to what might be interpreted as an outcome at the top of the pyramid. The pyramid makes some sense if you read it top down, but stops up after management.
Also the word ’sustainability’; here it is used as public relations helping organizations endure. It seems to me that a ‘communicative’ organization employing a stakeholder model approach would be more geared to how the firm can adjust its performance to help society as opposed to how society can be used to help the firm. Or is it both?
I also have problems with the definitions. Communicative basically means able or tending to communicate in a way that is honest, open and forthcoming. Therefore a communicative organization is one that willingly and actively communicates, meaning they speak, listen and respond. The Accord never really defines this. I can make no sense of the definition given on the webpage. It is a practice in obfuscation — as are nearly all the others. “… implies the constant delivery of communicative skills, competencies and tools to the components of its value networks”. Why don’t we just say interpersonal communication skills? Since it is really everyone in the organization who are building relationships, and most of them need help being communicative.
I have read and re-read some of the definitions and in some cases really have no clue as to what the authors are trying to say.
I do support this effort, and wish the conference well. Perhaps it might be an idea to look at the definitional transformation that marketing has gone through in the last 5-6 years as they try to understand their role in society. Few other professions seem to want to engage in reflection on precisely what their roles are on the organization-sustainability issue.

Paul Seaman

2010-05-24 kl 15:02

Peggy’s comment is very insightful. I’d just like to add that many companies and institutions don’t aim to be sustainable – they’re in it for the short term or medium term. Survival is rarely the main long-term goal of any business. Moreover, sustainability is about the future, a thing we know very little about. Markets, products, services, fashions and political epochs, like different business models and technologies, come and go. What makes life exciting is that so little is sustainable for long (for instance, even scientific opinion is rarely sustainable – as the Club of Rome’s wonderfully mistaken 1970s-predictions about fossil-fuel exhaustion testify to).

toni muzi falconi

2010-05-24 kl 16:39

Hello Peggy, good to hear from you.
I take responsibility for the pyramid idea and I think you are right.
This will be changed when the Accords are approved and transferred to the Global Alliance website for implementation and monitoring. Thank you.

As for the use of the term sustainability, as is clearly indicated in the ‘glossary’ part of the Accords, the interpretation is only mine and does not imply committment of the other authors of the Accords.
I have adopted a utilitarist and organizational interpretation simply because 50 full years of professional practice on behalf of private, social and public sector organizations have proven to me over and over again that the adoption of sustainable policies is in the interest of the organizations durability and bottom line.

Of course, as Paul Seaman indicates in his most recent comment, if the organization is in not it only for a quick fix.
Clearly, in this case, the organization can disregard sustainable behaviour, will probably cash in and then disappear.
Our business, social and political markets have thousands of these organizations.
In the Page Authentic Enterprise paper there is even a part which elaborates a distinction between organizations that are in it for the mid-long term from those who are only interested in the short term.

But what about the professional? Or is this of no concern to anyone?
I have seen hundreds of professionals who have made an excellent living out of unsustainable practice.
Is it only by accident that many of these grow long beards?
Is it maybe because they are disturbed by what they see in the mirror when they shave in the morning?
Of course I am aware that this is a macho comment as well as derogative vis a vis all the wonderful colleagues I know who actually grow beards.
I apologise but I am sure you understand what I mean.

Peggy Brønn

2010-05-24 kl 19:49

Hei Tony — wish I could be there, but I’ll be following close by in Norway. I do know what you mean about the practice itself and practitioners. There are plenty of companies being advised by public relations professionals on how to squeeze out of taking responsibility for their behavior. The question then is promoting sustainable practices. In this context how public relations itself is practiced; i.e. that practitioners behave in a way that contributes to the endurance of the profession, which we in turn see as contributing to ‘communicative’ organizations (those that do take the stakeholder appraoch seriously), that in turn see sustainability as both a societal and organizational issue. There are some nice results coming out of reputation research that solidly connects communication with high ranking firms. I recently found from our own data that sincerity, responsiveness and transparency are highly correlated with reputational rankings. Those are all part of the definition of ‘communicative’. One could argue that being anything else is ‘unsustainable’.

Paul Seaman

2010-05-24 kl 21:08

Peggy, why the concern with sustainability? I don’t get it. No company lives forever. From start ups and their exit plans, to M&As and takeovers of “ancient” brands such as Cadbury’s – no company, business model, product or service is sustainable forever and neither should they be; at least in form. The great thing about progress is that the present is not sustainable (that’s what disruption is all about). Moreover, PR is not a profession, it is a trade. There’s no barriers to entry in our trade. Anybody can practice PR with or without qualifications, as a member or non-member of any of our many so-called professional bodies. The two major problems with PR are its inability to talk about itself credibly and its inability to explain reality (on behalf of clients) realistically.

Peggy Brønn

2010-05-26 kl 20:38

While I see that some firms go into business to go out of business, most are in it to succeed in the long term. Granted, organizations must adjust, adapt and perhaps grow. I take exception to your calling PR a trade. That is your opinion and you are entitled to it but it is a disservice to all those taking degrees in public relations, particularly at the master’s and doctorate levels.

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