Is the communications sector helping to feed the endless consumption monster that is devouring the planet?

Is the communications sector helping to feed the endless consumption monster that is devouring the planet?

At the end of September, I stood on the stage at the PRCA national conference to admit my fear. Not at speaking in front of my peers, and not, in fact, because of Brexit or Trump, for all that those things do scare me. No, my fear is deeper-held and it’s the fear that a parent feels for the future that his generation is creating for and bequeathing to his children.

I watched Greta Thunberg’s speech to the UN where she opened with the provocation, “How dare you? How dare you steal my childhood”. And I had to ask myself: Am I part of the problem? Is my industry? Am I feeding the endless consumption monster that is devouring the planet? Are my clients?

And what’s our industry doing about it? Are we promoting more production and sales and consumption of ‘stuff’? Or are we solving problems?

Making a real difference by leading

I want to be able to look at my children in the eye and say we did some good, we made a difference. We made the world better and in doing so we built a business. We helped other businesses and whole sectors become more sustainable. We helped them on their journey to improvement.

I want to work in an industry that I can be proud of.

An industry that leads the world in an age of uncertainty, problems and crises.

To lead, we need to know where we're going. And that has to be, quite simply, a better world. A world where good, sustainable, ethical, purposeful businesses flourish. Where they flourish, crucially, thanks to the invaluable knowledge and solutions that the PR industry provides them.

All business strategy is communications strategy

These things – ‘knowledge’, ‘solutions’ – are not, to our discredit, things the PR industry is particularly known for. They should be. Because when all is said and done, at our best we are an industry of trusted advisors. We understand behaviour change. The power of narrative and story to shape people’s attitudes. The importance of purpose. And, after all, as I say all the time to the team and clients at Blurred, all business strategy is comms strategy. Otherwise all you have is a P&L and some products.

But we tend to lose ourselves in linguistic cul-de-sacs, talking about and defining ourselves by either abstracts (‘reputation’ and ‘ideas’) or by tactical tools (‘coverage’ and ‘data’) instead of by specifics.

One dictionary definition of ‘idea’ is a ‘thought or suggestion about a possible course of action’. How nebulous and vague. When I hear that PR is the business of ‘ideas’ I despair. Firstly, because we’re not; secondly because we shouldn’t want to be. We should be looking to solve specific problems according to a knowledge-based world view, not settling for abstract creativity that with a bit of gloss will win us an award.

Stuart Lambert

Think deeper, stop rushing and advise more

Helping to solve the world’s current and coming problems is the purpose that will create a commercial feedback loop for ourselves. Because the next 50 years are going to throw up more problems than the world has ever seen.

Those problems will test the limits of our endurance. Our technology. Our systems. Our relationships.

Which means they provide opportunities. For new strategies. For new technologies. For new systems and methodologies. For new ways to communicate, better.

So I'm scared. Sure. But I'm also excited. I'm engaged. I'm motivated. Because this shit is about to get real and this shit matters.

So let's think deeper and stop rushing. Let's pitch less and advise more. Let's spend less energy on self-congratulation and more on strategic solutions. Let’s know more. Let's be geeks. Let's be scientists. Let's be inventors. Let's be analysts. Let's be designers and makers and doers and solvers.

Let's not be order takers. Let's be leaders.