Once upon a time, the world of communications was relatively straightforward and even the most complex strategies were grounded in satisfying two main goals on the top line: managing media and keeping shareholders happy.

As the local economy continues to heal and grow, not only are we seeing the emergence of new players helping to create a whole new business landscape, but a new demand for communications strategies that keep up to a whole new – and much more dynamic and complicated world. It’s a playing field that is rapidly harming players who don’t embrace change wholeheartedly, as we are seeing in a global context. 

Several large corporations are facing lawsuits from environmentalists, or having to backtrack on their involvement in Russia, or are being beat up on the bottom line by hesitating when it comes to fully supporting human rights. In Florida last spring for example, Disney’s silence on the state’s parental rights bill that drew instant criticism from both Disney employees and state residents for its archaic and out-of-tune Don’t Say Gay bill was amplified globally. The company eventually openly opposed the discriminatory law saying it should never have passed and that the new goal of the company was to advocate to have the law repealed.

The goal of effective communications is to never come close to reactive and shoddy public discourse through strategies that are based on a new set of values that reflect an evolved global reality. All of these scenarios could have been opportunities to illustrate real thought leadership if the public had been properly engaged – early on and thoroughly.

A value-based stakeholder engagement plan is the new black when it comes to strategies of discourse that work. Gone are the days when the concept of media was a straightforward group with which it was possible to build a rapport and gone also are the days when satisfying shareholders was more important than satisfying those impacted by the service or product chain.

Consumers are fully educated and aware of ESG and the corporate responsibility to protect the sacred human rights of both their employees and anyone touched by their service and product, which is potentially everyone. But equally, a new reality of extremism and questionable sources of information coupled with the power of keyboard activism means building a direct and open and fluid conversation with the public grounded in trust is unavoidably the top priority of any stellar communications strategy.

Public services such as healthcare as well as corporate entities selling running shoes are now equal in this reality: the public knows it has a right to be part of the conversation of any delivery of any product or service that impacts their environment both physically and socially and increasingly so as both become more and more fragile and in need of protection.  

Professional communications strategists design plans with careful thought and attention that starts with identifying who the stakeholders are currently, and who they might be in the future. They consider legislation, geopolitical shifts, local and global concerns and priorities, access to services, even changes in gas prices and inflation and how those change the reality for consumers and a plethora of other factors that could affect the atmosphere of the delivery of goods and/or services.

The International Association of Public Participation sets up parametres for professional communicators based on a spectrum of participation. It is a helpful guide in sitting down with a client to determine where their engagement plan needs to be from inform, consult, involve, collaborate to empower when it comes to meeting with stakeholders, ‘inform’ being the operative baseline for every part of the spectrum.

From there, a communications professional will present a plan with specific tools for engaging with all those who have the potential to impact and dictate policy. In a nutshell, a good plan says to community stakeholders: we are responsible for doing our part to make our society better, we recognize your right for input, and we welcome it in informing our best practice not just as a one-off but as part of a meaningful relationship built on trust.

The challenge is that unlike old-school media or shareholder lists, a thorough understanding of the new arena of stakeholders is both difficult for corporations and the service sector to understand as well as take seriously and both require a cultural shift in values.

Today’s stakeholder is not often institutional, may not belong to a traditional organization or association, and may be invested with an individual as opposed to a collective interest. Connecting with some of the most influential and illusive tech-savvy stakeholders takes a whole new level of presence combined with an evolved sense of community and one a dedicated communications professional will be positioned to tap. In any case, the communications plan of the future is fraught with reactivity and impulsiveness if it isn’t based on a deep understanding of a new public value of the need and the right to engage on any decisions that will inevitably shape and altar society.

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