Last week I was challenged by one of the most pre-eminent academics on the subject of leadership, Professor Steve Kempster, who posed the question ‘leadership for what?’
By becoming better leaders, what might we contribute to the world beyond (but not instead of) economic impact; what’s our dividend for good? He’s got me thinking, what’s the social purpose of Target, or any other PR agency?
Public relations is an industry that’s so often denigrated. PR is frequently used as a slur to condemn the actions of organisations that are thought to be untruthful, to have used ‘spin’, or simply tried to convince the public that they are ‘better’ than they really are.
And yet, the daily reality of most professionals in this industry is less Machiavellian and far simpler. We help regular people (you know, people like you and me) communicate better with those that matter to them.
I believe wholeheartedly that nothing can be achieved to its fullest potential without great communication. Not because we are all trying to deceive each other, but because we want to connect, meaningfully.
Let me share two examples from the past week.
Creating social change
The Mirror’s Pride of Sport Awards in partnership with TSB celebrates the unsung heroes of sport. At Thursday night’s glittering awards ceremony, the winner of the community partnership award was announced as Flamingo Chicks, an inspirational dance school where children with special needs, disabilities and serious illnesses come together to learn to dance alongside their able-bodied friends.
In just three years, they’ve grown from a single class in Bristol, to groups in Bristol, Bradford, London, Leeds, York and Cardiff, with 300 active volunteers helping to reach more than 1,500 children a week. The children have performed at Downing Street and spoken at the United Nations in New York.
Flamingo Chicks was founded by Katherine Sparkes, an inspirational leader and superb communicator. We were colleagues in a PR agency years ago, where her boundless energy and creativity was a glimmer of what was yet to come. Last year, she asked Target if we would cast a fresh pair of eyes on her communications strategy as she sought to progress from a dance school to a ‘movement’ for social change.
We were delighted to be a sounding board, pinpointing just a couple of areas for focus from the effervescent flow of ideas, energy and passion that emanates from Katherine and her colleagues. In truth, she needed little help from us, just an outside view to see things from another perspective. The children have become Agents of Change, creating the social movement themselves, and the hashtag #balletnotbarriers is helping them to gain momentum through social media. They have a clear and authentic voice; that’s communication for good.
Pride in each other
My second example of an organisation wanting to connect more powerfully with the people that matter to them couldn’t be more different.
We’ve worked with top 200 legal firm BPE Solicitors for the past year, getting to know many of their specialist lawyers, sharing their news, views and insights with the enterprising people who are drawn to them as clients.
The leadership team of owners at BPE also recognises the importance of their internal audience, the 130-strong workforce of lawyers and support staff, so they have spent time thinking carefully about the firm’s values. The partners possessed clear views and conviction about what was important to the business; the characteristics and behaviours that they valued from everyone.
Finding the words to express their values did not come so easily, and that’s where we worked together. Connecting their values with some extraordinary stories of their people, told simply, we showed how their external brand is an outward expression of their internal culture, founded on their values. Captured elegantly in their own ‘brand book’ given to all staff last week, we know already of colleagues proudly taking a copy home to show family. This was a great project that we loved working on alongside their in-house marketing team and designer; a brilliant team effort.
As the final page of their book says, “our brand is a single voice, delivered by all of us, every day.” Finding your authentic voice has meaning and purpose, and that’s what Target contributes to its clients.
Steve’s challenge is a good one; maybe this is the beginning of finding an answer.