The importance of seeing the bigger picture

Kevin Keohane – my fellow IABC member and erstwhile boss at SAS – has written some brilliant and thought-provoking posts recently on the need for business communicators to broaden their perspectives and adopt a more “systemic” view.

Like him, I’m convinced that seeing the bigger picture and how everything fits together – rather than technical specialism – is the key to unlocking the full value of business communications and moving the profession upstream.

It’s a point I was particularly keen to make last week in an email exchange regarding a call for papers for a future IABC event on corporate responsibility…

My take? It’s the big picture stuff that’s actually the really fascinating, exciting and challenging bit when it comes to CR strategy and communications – especially for an audience of predominantly internal communicators.

My reasoning? The really critical development is the shift away from CR as self-contained box for all the “good stuff” towards CR as “core strategy” and an integral part of the fabric of the organisation. This represents a fundamental shift in the balance of power between marketing/PR and HR/internal comms.

My request? In inviting people to present case studies as to how companies have communicated their various CR activities and investments, let’s also ensure that:

  1. We preface these with the big picture, contextual stuff that illustrates where CR is heading and what that means for building trust, loyalty and competitive advantage, and
  2. We encourage the shift in mind-set away from “CR as PR” by selecting case studies that are absolutely, undeniably, 100% material to the business’ operations, not just old-fashioned corporate philanthropy

Perhaps unwisely, I chose to illustrate the latter point by questioning an example proposed by one of my colleagues – an international bank’s programme to promote clean water and sustainable water use.

My observations? A worthy initiative, I’m sure, but does it really have that much to do with responsible banking? Particularly given the current economic climate, couldn’t we agree that other issues are rather higher up in the “materiality” pecking order – responsible lending and how the bank’s policies support and promote sustainable business, for example? (See my previous post.)

For a short while, I thought I’d put the guy’s nose seriously out of joint but, to his credit, he appreciated the point I was trying to make.

A fair point, then, but less than subtly made! I really must work on that…


One thought on “The importance of seeing the bigger picture

  1. kevinkeohane

    Wow, thanks for the plug.

    Agree wholeheartedly with this, but you would know that, given the work we’ve done on CR together.

    KPMG is a great example of an organisation doing it right — applying their audit, tax and advisory skills to helping global, regional and local organisations directly deal with sustainability and other important issues broadly covered by the Millennium Development goals. Similarly, how TNT supports logistical operations when disaster strikes — it’s what they’re good at so they focus where it matters.

    As opposed to “We’ve been painting schools in Africa and sponsoring Cancer 5k runs and ensuring clean water for people in Asia and sending money for Tsunami relief and …” mentality of yesterday.



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