For some time the term “authentic” communications has been a buzzword. Whether it be about any number of the politicians topping the wave of populism around the world, we keep hearing that their appeal is due to plain speaking and being authentic.
Outside of the world of politics, again we hear the importance of being authentic, as a brand, a corporation or an individual. Effective social media engagement depends on the authenticity of that engagement. But there is a real risk that harm done by politicians will result in the term “authentic” becoming a bad word. This should not be allowed to happen.
In the world of “fake news” there is also “fake authenticity”. Just like fake news, fake authenticity is duplicitous and quite simply, lying. We see it every day in politics, where individuals appeal to people’s emotions. But fake authenticity is not limited to that sphere. Another word is “spin”.
I recently had a conversation with someone about what we do, and there was an assumption that our role as communicators is to make bad things sounds better than they are. It is not. Our role is to inform, educate and ensure our clients are doing the right thing and seen to be doing so.
Being authentic starts with having real values. It does not matter what those values are – just have some. An old friend recently described a firm he worked for being a truly “values free zone”. He found this out in his first week when he heard a presentation by the CEO. He assumed that he had misunderstood what the CEO was saying, but no, the reality is the firm only cared about making money. It is a value of sorts, but not a great one. He didn’t stay long.
So have some values, some principles, and then stick to them. As a consultancy we have to have principles and ensure our people share them. At AXON we have a clear set of values that all new starters learn about. Even before then our values heavily influence our recruitment approaches. They dictate our behavior with clients.
One of them is Honesty. It means we must always be honest in the advice we give, even if it is not good for our business in the short term; and our clients must be honest in their communications. Authentic.
If a pharmaceutical company says it puts patients at the heart of everything they do, then it should live by that, and be seen to live by that. That means R&D that addresses real needs, access strategies that help patients get treatment and overcome barriers that prevent this happening, and reminding employees constantly that they are working first and foremost for the people who need that treatment. Shareholders matter too, but in nearly every case doing the right thing by patients also means doing the right thing by shareholders in the longer term.
A brand or corporate reputation is not managed by spinning its way out of trouble – that might work for a little bit. Long term corporate reputation and brand value are built by organizations with real principles who live by them day to day. And when challenges hit, the organization make values-based decision. That is true authenticity, and should be our guiding star.