Catalyst Communications

Communicators as the Conscience of the Organization

Early in my career as a corporate communications editor I gave no thought to my role as being the conscience of an organization. Yet, as I think back I recall the frustration and outrage I experienced when asked to write a benefits article that discouraged, in subtle ways, vested and retiring employees from withdrawing all their retirement funds, which was an option, from the company supported program.

At the time employers were allowed to keep the funds they had contributed to an employee’s retirement account upon the death of the employee. That meant that there would be no beneficiaries to those funds, only the funds the employee had contributed. It also meant that because the company was very generous they were able to recoup significant funds upon a retiree’s death.

My boss’s response to my questioning the direction of the story, which emphasized the tax burden of 100 percent withdrawals, was that I was no longer working for a daily newspaper. I persisted by talking to the senior vice president of HR. He did allow me to present a more balanced piece. He recognized that this well-respected company needed to take the high road.

I didn’t recognize it at the time but I was acting as the conscience of the organization. The company in question is a large, Fortune 5oo company that’s often listed as among the “best” companies. Today, it is employed owned.

As professional communicators, we have an obligation to uphold the reputation of our clients or employers. When we are pushed, even bullied, into taking unethical or unprofessional actions, we must push back—or be prepared to seek a new job.

It is something to think about every time we write a release, post on a social media site or engage in any type of communication–internal or external. Unlike some fictional portrayals of our profession, there can be no “hype.”

The most critical time to avoid the hype and jargon is when bad news must be communicated. During a crisis the more straightforward and candid your messages, the greater your opportunity to neutralize the worst. You can tell the truth without extending the liability by sharing what you can and being forthcoming about the reasons why some information cannot be shared.

Work cooperatively with legal counsel but stand your ground if they should attempt to hide or deny the truth. I once suggested to a client’s attorney that I would promise to not practice law if he would promise to not practice public relations. We had a staring contest, but he blinked first. My relationship with this client lasted 10 years through a very contentious time with the city. My client eventually won out.

The attorney representing the city hired me a few years later to work on another crisis that dragged on for nearly four years before being resolved.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!

Catalyst Communications