Written by Mia West
An advisor recently asked me, “What will be the biggest cultural change we experience in the next ten years?” His intention was obvious: stop operating in the now, and start preparing your business the future… or be left behind. A truth indeed. But how exactly will the cultural landscape shift? How will it shape the way we do business? And how will it specifically affect how PR agencies advise their clients?
The consumer mindset has shifted considerably in recent years, as they call out loudly for transparency. They demand the intimate details of every product they purchase. They want to know its country’s origin, where the ingredients were sourced, if it’s sustainable, ethical, non-GMO, organic and so on. This trend was born from a growing distrust of manufacturers, growers, farmers and the government, as well as the internet providing unlimited access to information and social media giving a voice to anyone who wants to challenge the powers that be. But be warned, this is no fad and it will expand beyond goods and services.
As we move away from blindly purchasing products out of brand loyalty and brand recognition, holding companies accountable for good business practices we will eventually turn the scrutinizing eye towards employers. We will insist on knowing how much money our colleagues are making, what the financials looks like, precisely how company dollars and resources are being allocated and what our employer is doing to make the world a better place. We will continue to question anything and anyone that impacts our lives. So if your business isn’t prepared to answer, and answer TRUTHFULLY with supportive facts, then you can anticipate being called out. It won’t be a matter of if you’re called out — it will be a matter of when and how. And, if you’re blasted online, know that a) your reputation may be permanently tarnished because negative posts don’t go away easily, and b) it could spiral into a much bigger communications issue regardless of accuracy.
Bare it All
Being naked in front of your customers and your team isn’t easy. However, it demonstrates true character and shows that your business has integrity. It also helps keep leadership and all of the company stakeholders honest. While one may not intend to be unscrupulous, the pressures of looming deadlines, budget cuts and meeting financial goals could result in cutting corners. If it’s known that your company has to bare it all to everyone, those questionable choices are far less likely to happen.
From a communications standpoint, the key is anticipating what your audience will want to know and being forthcoming before you’re asked. If you wait for the question to come, you’re missing an opportunity to connect with your audience and show that you have nothing to hide. It’s also important to be strategic in how you share the information and make it easy to find. While your audience may crave information, they may not know how to interpret it, so be thorough in your explanation and use layman terms. Take for example the recent Food Babe controversy. When Vani Hari went searching for potentially unhealthy ingredients used in foods, she didn’t understand the science behind what she found and disseminated inaccurate information about the possible dangers. Despite her claims being false in many cases, she created a frenzy amongst her followers that eventually led to many businesses changing their practices. Had they understood the rumors surrounding the ingredients and addressed them well before the Food Babe sunk her claws into them, the situation may have ended differently.
Most importantly, create a culture that lives and breathes your mantra of transparency by letting them know that whistleblowers are heroes, not pariahs. At the end of the day, it boils down to treating others how you want to be treated. We all desire meaningful work and being part of an organization we can be proud of. We want to use products and services that we know are responsible and do right by us and our loved ones. We want to be part of something we believe in, whether it’s a brand or our employer.
As West Public Relations’ Queen Bee, Mia West delivers scene-stealing PR campaigns for nationally recognized brands such as Petco and Electra Bikes. Connect with her and her minions on Facebook: WestPublicRelations, Twitter: @westpr, Instagram: @westpublicrelations and LinkedIn: miawestpr