One last post from the Edelman Academic Summit last summer: Gary Sheffer, VP of Communications and Public Affairs at GE and chair of Arthur Page Society, spoke on the topic "Telling the Story of Corporate Character."
First he asked, "What is corporate character, and why does it matter?" Drivers of change include globalization, the social media revolution, and stakeholder empowerment, and he described corporate character as the framework for managing these changes.
Sheffer pointed to beliefs, values and action – what are the values and principles that guide decisions by everyone in the company? What’s our purpose and how do we put it into action? He said that the answers to these questions point to a unique, differentiating identity (different from competitors and everyone else).
Pointing to factors like the credit crisis, recession, taxes, the failure of the reactors at Fukoshima (made by GE), Sheffer said GE's reputation took a hit. The communications team was partly responsible because it was letting others define the company. So they spent a year listening to their own employees to understand how they viewed GE’s role in the world. People said they believe in a better way and have a relentless drive to invent and build things that matter, which results in a world that works better. Scientists and engineers take on big challenges.
This insight led to the following statement: GE works on things that matter. It has the best people and technologies taking on the toughest challenges. They saw themselves as building, powering, moving and curing the world. The company created ads with GE employees talking about this. It makes GE more personal and human; performance has also improved which together help improve reputation.
Sheffer then described the Page Society’s new model: Authentic advocacy (belief, action, confidence, and advocacy at scale). Companies must communicate great stories about who we are and what we do.
GE's metrics include reach, mentions, positive/negative/neutral tone etc. Sheffer has learned that “measurement matters” in a science and engineering company, even though “some of this is art, not science.” Measurement can ensure that they stay on message as a company.
Other concluding thoughts: By communicating around character we can ensure that messages are credible and believable; increased employee engagement; deeper connection and confidence among stakeholders; and value to our organizations and our profession
In sum, Sheffer says he spends more time teaching corporate culture than on public relations. (But I'd say that corporate culture is part of public relations.)