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June 9, 2010
Strong PR Requires a Strong Culture
The cultural dimensions of PR -- corporate culture, that is -- are plumbed in a post on The Conversation Harvard Business Review blog. Good PR reflects a strong, effective corporate culture. PR shouldn't be used to try to mask a flawed culture. Lots of people, though, think that's PR's function. It definitely isn't.  

Witness BP. Elizabeth Haas Edersheim discusses how BP apparently let a strong culture slip away.  

"BP's (recent) culture allowed extreme shortsightedness in pursuit of profit at the cost of safety or environmental stewardship," she writes. "As the drill was planned, BP chose a cheaper casing seal, which reportedly contributed to the blow-up. Also, the company intentionally cut corners on procedural (issues) and safety ..."

That's not how it was 31 years ago, Edersheim begins her post, when BP was acquiring Standard Oil of Ohio, and a consultant friend told her that "BP had a very human, non-hierarchical culture, respect for Standard Oil's people and (a) careful style of doing business. 'The executives at British Petroleum,' he said, 'are people of integrity.'"

"Culture is an organization's operating system, the values that everyone lives by," Edersheim emphasizes, and she's right about that. She goes on to discuss how BP's culture evidently deteriorated. "BP's (faded) culture allowed extreme shortsightedness in pursuit of profit at the cost of safety or environmental stewardship. ..."

She gives examples, but toward the end of her post Edersheim slips into reinforcing a hoary stereotype of public relations that needs to be resisted whenever it appears.

"This fiasco has become more about public relations than (the) public's right to know. Rather than releasing realistic figures of the volume of oil flowing into the environment, BP knowingly cited a very conservative estimate. ..."

That's not public relations; that's incompetence. An organization that looses its cultural integrity simply flounders around. 

Effective public relations clues the public to cultures that everyone can appreciate and participants can be proud of. PR techniques shouldn't be used to mask organizational deterioration; at some point the decline will show through. That's not PR, that's corporate corruption in the sense of decay and rot.  


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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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