In 2007, the Arthur W. Page Society published our first report on the changing role of the chief communications officer in light of a radical transformation of the business environment.
The report was called The Authentic Enterprise. It observed that globalization, the digital networking revolution and the rise of new stakeholders were creating threats to the ability of enterprises to protect and advance brand and reputation. People with similar interests, armed with information and expertise, found they could mobilize opinion nearly instantaneously, and this increasingly was affecting the views and actions of the stakeholders businesses care most about – their employees, their customers and their stakeholders – not to mention the regulators and legislators who have the power to approve or curtail their ability to operate.
But these trends also provided opportunities for enlightened enterprises to build deeper and more meaningful relationships with stakeholders. In order to seize those opportunities, the report recommended that Chief Communications Officers assert leadership in establishing authenticity.
By this, we meant that enterprises needed to ask themselves some very fundamental questions: Why do we exist? What value do we create? What do we believe? How do we act? The answers to those questions then must shape the enterprise’s desired corporate character – its defining mission, purpose, values, culture, strategy, business model and operating plan.
Then the hard part begins. How do you live by (and thus exhibit) that corporate character consistently, up and down and across the enterprise in all its far-flung operations, business partnerships and alliances? If you can achieve that, you have achieved authenticity.
We hoped when we wrote The Authentic Enterprise and its successor report, Building Belief: A New Model for Activating Corporate Character and Authentic Advocacy, that we would begin a productive discussion within the communications profession and beyond about how enterprises can build brand, reputation and trust most authentically.
FleishmanHillard’s study of The Authenticity Gap and Authentic Engagement is offered in the spirit of this quest. I commend them and the many other agencies and companies that are innovating around these ideas for their very constructive contributions.
Roger Bolton is the president of the Arthur W. Page Society, a premier professional association for senior corporate communications executives. Members include the chief communications officers of the world’s major corporations, the CEOs of the most influential public relations agencies and leading academics from select business and communications schools.