Yesterday Shel Holtz posted a video that was played at the Council of Public Relations’ recent “Critical Issues Forum.” Its title was, “What is the most dangerous idea in PR today?”
The ideas amount to: the Internet is going to change PR and a pile of clips isn’t the end-all, be-all.
Ooh, real scary. I’m going as one of these ideas for Halloween!
You want a dangerous idea? Here’s a dangerous idea that I call “The Subversive 60 Percent”:
I believe a responsible communicator in an average organization spends only 40 percent of the time doing the chores he or she is assigned to do, and 60 percent doing what he or she knows needs to be done, even though management, and in many cases including the vice president of corporate communication, doesn’t have the foggiest.
Most of that 60 percent will appear to management, if management notices it at all, like unnecessary thoroughness and deck-chair rearrangement.
But another portion of “The Subversive 60” will actually run counter to the organization’s strategy. Though all communication activities must of course be portrayed as being strategically aligned win-wins, sometimes you just go ahead and run the goddamn story even though you know it might spark a counterproductive uproar. You put the clueless CFO in front of a hostile employee crowd because he needs a wake-up call. You let the platitudinous CEO letter go out like that, because that’s how the old turd talks. You do communications that bind your constituencies together as communities, whether or not it binds them to your organization.
How do you justify such active and passive subversion? Simple: Your employees—or customers, or investors—have a right to know the truth … about you’re your organization's strengths and weaknesses, about your competition, about your organization’s effect on the marketplace and the environment. And you, as the communicator, are in a unique position to deliver that truth.
Although your contractual duty is to help your employer further whatever combination of foolishness, benevolence, wisdom and greed its leaders concoct, your larger obligation is to the society in which your employer does business. You’re a human being first and an employee second.
Protect your job—but first, protect your conscience, even if it means quietly and cleverly going against your employer’s will.
The most dangerous thing about this idea is that it’s not an idea; it's a practice: You’re already doing it to one extent or another, and you have been, your whole career.
(You don’t like that dangerous idea? Well what dangerous idea do you like?)