Does Sustainability Communications Have To Be So Boring?

In the earnest, fact-based world of sustainability communications there is no room for spin, but companies need to be brave enough to talk about failure, says PR agency boss Lou Hoffman.

Companies hate talking about their failures, especially when it comes to sustainability. But being open about their weaknesses as well their achievements might help firms avoid one of the biggest corporate communications sins: being boring.

This was the advice offered by public relations veteran Lou Hoffman, president and chief executive officer of San Jose-based global tech PR firm The Hoffman Agency, who for 30 years has managed the reputations of the likes of global business giants such as Google, Avaya, Brother and Fuji Xerox.

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“Dullness comes from a combination of the lexicon of your company and corporate speak,” Hoffman told an audience during a session on storytelling techniques at media and marketing conference Mumbrella360 Asia in Singapore last week.

Companies also come across as uninteresting when they brag about their achievements, and “bang people over the head” with boastful content that turns readers off, said Hoffman, whose agency has published a report on the obstacles PR professionals in Asia face in creating good content.

He added: “I don’t know when it happened, but companies now have the attitude that ‘I paid for it [an agency to produce content], so I get to say whatever I want.’ Yes, that’s true. But don’t you want to say something that people care about, and journalists may want to write about?”

Hoffman acknowledged that in the dry, cautious world of sustainability, the tone of conversation companies take is usually “clinical and academic,” and with good reason—setting the record straight on environmental and social matters requires a steady voice and is no time for spin.

But talking about failure in the public domain allows the company to “be its own ombudsman” and review its own progress in dealing with difficult issues if they arise in future, he said.

By talking about what has gone wrong, a company can at least establish a public record, and “deposit goodwill in the karma bank,” he added. By talking about what has gone wrong, a company can garner goodwill from the public for being honest, transparent, and accountable, he explained.

This was originally published by Eco Business.

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