It struck me on Friday, following your cover story “Bullet Proof?” (MW April 26), that there were possibly two scenarios being played out across the corridors of power in corporate Britain. One features the marketing or corporate communications director photocopying your feature and leaving it with the chief executive’s PA, with an urgent memo requesting a meeting as soon as possible. The second is the said chief executive speed-reading the feature and scribbling a note saying “make it an agenda item at our next meeting”, while muttering under his breath: “There for the grace of some all-powerful one go we!”
We all know that this scene has been played out before and will be again, every time an article like this runs in the press. But what action is taken? Very little, I suspect. Until, as you so rightly point out, “the next exploitation outrage hits the media” and corporate ethics become a boardroom agenda item again.
But, as these “outrages” are invariably restricted to a handful of household brand names, we could be doing more damage than good. Other boards can fall in to the trap of thinking that “it’s only the big boys that are the focus of campaigners and the media”. I am sure that promoting the ostrich approach was not the intention of the piece, but it may possibly be the outcome.
Boards should embrace their consumers and actively seek their opinions. The power within a business no longer sits solely with the finance department and the stock exchange. Far from it. Stakeholder groups – including consumers, suppliers, community associations, non-governmental organisations, lobbyists and campaigners – are wrestling their way to the bridge and will take command using every communications tool available to them unless boards act now and invite them to offer their perspective.
And this is where things get tricky. To hear and not to listen is a cardinal sin. That is not to say that every piece of counsel offered by a stakeholder must be acted upon. But to offer a forum for discussion and then take little or no tangible action is corporate suicide. Listen, learn, absorb, reflect and act appropriately.
Strategic communications director