Transparency and empathy are of the essence in PR and should always shine through in a company’s communication with its audience. This is especially relevant as many businesses try to navigate the Covid-19 crisis. Many companies lose sight of their audience’s needs, which is why often their communication is not what it should be, explains Dorian Ilie, Communication Director at Rogalski Damaschin Public.
In this exclusive interview, he shares his thoughts on ethical communication in PR, the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the industry, and how companies can truly put diversity and inclusion at the heart of their communication strategies.
What does ‘responsible’ and ‘ethical’ look like in PR today? What are some of the lessons you would like to share with others on that topic, especially this year?
Dorian Ilie: It doesn’t matter if it’s today or tomorrow, PR should be always responsible and ethical as all professions should be. We have a saying in Romanian that translates to English something like “a lie has short legs” meaning that lies and deceit can’t work for you in the medium and long term. You can have your way once, but if you want to do business tomorrow or next year or the next decade, you might want to reconsider.
As far as lessons go for this year, I want to mention three major ones:
- Actively communicate what your business is doing to support society at large
- Manifest leadership in your area of expertise through your company’s spokespeople
- Above all, talk and act like a human being; show vulnerability and empathy
2020 has been one continual crisis. From a PR perspective, how can companies stay authentic and transparent in their communication with all their different stakeholders while navigating a crisis?
Dorian Ilie: Good PR always starts at home. This means businesses should focus a lot of their attention on their internal stakeholders such as employees, associates and partners first.
These people can be your most active fans or your worst enemies. The way others perceive your brand depends on how you treat your people. Be flexible, stay in touch with them, provide and nurture a cooperative environment, be ready to step in whenever necessary.
I think it’s also important to drop the “corporate slang” and talk like a real person, even in your official communications. Humans can’t really connect to someone whose speech is ‘sterile’. Promote and cultivate key people in your company that are charismatic, empathetic, credible and that can deliver corporate messages in a real and authentic manner. As for transparency, it’s definitely a must-have, especially given that when it’s lacking it usually ends up impacting others. For example, if you have Covid cases in your company don’t try and hide it, it won’t work. What you can do is take this event and say what you will do to prevent these cases and how are you going to support people in the future.
Many companies have had to pivot or change their model significantly in order to simply survive. What advice do you have for these companies on how to manage their reputation and brand as they adapt to the new reality? What can they do to ensure they maintain the loyalty of their customers, from a PR perspective?
Dorian Ilie: It’s really not rocket science, it’s the same thing as always, but many people forget that. Connect with your audience in an authentic, relevant and emotional manner. Surprise them, be a part of what is important to them, listen to their concerns and address them. Don’t make it about you, make it about them.
You know why many brands and corporations fail to communicate well? Because they only make everything about themselves: their business, their figures, their photos, their videos and so on. Focus your attention on your audience and provide them with content that is appealing to them, not just to your CEO, or at least adapt what you have and say it in a way that is interesting for them.
Research shows that companies that put diversity and inclusion at the core of their communication strategies develop a better brand reputation. How can companies do this?
Dorian Ilie: I think diversity and inclusion (D&I) is absolutely crucial. Today we live in a very complicated, complex yet diverse and beautiful world. We can’t ignore that. People in companies are multi-ethnic, of different genders, of different ages, different sexual orientations, different faiths and so on. You can’t expect to put them under the same umbrella unless that umbrella is D&I. Integrating this topic into your communication strategy is vital, not only for your brand reputation but also for attracting and retaining talented people in your company. Moreover, nowadays people are more inclined to buy from companies that support such values, so this may also translate into better business opportunities.
How has the PR world changed because of COVID-19? What changes do you expect and hope to see in PR post-COVID-19?
Dorian Ilie: I don’t think PR has changed or will fundamentally change because of Covid. There may be an increased focus in areas such as crisis management and employee engagement services. These are areas that are more accessed by clients, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the same thing: relations that are publicly expressed between organisations and people. I expect companies to focus more on the “relations” part of PR for the future, in which they stop being so self-absorbed and shift to a more people-centric approach in their communication.
What was the biggest lesson learned this year?
Dorian Ilie: Arts, culture, entertainment, travelling and mental health are more valuable than many people would have thought before. Living is not the same thing as surviving. Don’t take things for granted. We need to pay more attention to these aspects of life in the future.