The Importance of Being Transparent

24 Oct

In an age where secrets are revealed with the use of a mobile phone camera or in the second that it takes to click a link online transparency is becoming a must have to many organisations. Our interactivity with media is increasingly being used and seen for the sharing of information; organisations and PR professionals know and realise this. From inside and outside the PR perspective it seems obvious that being honest and transparent makes for the best possible reputation a company can get.

The internet has empowered society in a way PR’s and organisations have not had to face before, the previous ways of communication were one way and message to consumer based through traditional media forms such as TV, print and radio. The internet offers a voice back to the consumers and society giving them freedom to share information they’re interested in, shocked by, entertained by etc.

The main objective for a company in relation to transparency would be to not get caught up into a scandal creating issues for the organisation. There have been many examples of non-transparent communications gone horribly wrong, e.g. Nike some years ago had information leaked about their labour and underpayment of outsourced employees, this affected them more than they thought with consumers and other stakeholders boycotting their products in the market place. One of the worst reputation crucifiers is not being open in these types of circumstances. It is not just the force of the internet putting pressure on companies to come out of hiding and be transparent; there is more reasoning behind the motivations. Organisations are realising the ethical implications of being secretive towards important stakeholders as well as realising transparency can have real economic benefits.These economic benefits come from stakeholder trust being built between organisation and consumer/employee/shareholder etc. There is proven correlation between both trust and transparency and building trust with any stakeholder acts as a loyalty partnership that can last a long time.

This all seems very good and so far appears to make a simple decision for PR professionals and their organisations; transparency is best. However there are a few questions that I have come up with whilst researching the uprising of a transparent communications industry; the main one being, it can’t be right for every company out there and every type of communications strategy… can it?

For example, what happens if you as a PR professional need to respect the fact there will be a lot of people opposing your company’s transparency in terms of work ethic and methods. There are plenty of oil conglomerates and non-environmentally friendly companies out there who would face some clear scrutiny from being totally open. These along with organisations with huge profit margins and unhealthy products would all come across limitations when adopting transparency.  Another limitation is the affect transparency may have on the element of surprise; with new product launches organisations aren’t going to want to be completely open with all the information  before the actual launch as will consumers want to keep some mystery surrounding an innovative product. Although there there are some issues with transparency in some situations it is unavoidable in the porosity of organisations today, this just presents a strong need for PR and its input into communications strategy and management of transparency for a company.

Having pointed out some excellent benefits and some concerns surrounding transparency I have come to the conclusion that it is a brilliant way to form communications and relationships between organisations and stakeholders in the modern age of communication. There are different standards of transparency suiting different types of organisations and these levels need to be respected through careful communications planning. Culture is changing and with it comes added responsibility for organisations to build trust and act fairly to all of its stakeholders; transparency certainly helps as a start to accomplish this change.

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