In today’s New York Times, “New Surveys Show That Big Business Has a P.R. Problem,” by Claudia Deutsch, underscores my feeling about the “Soylent Greening” of American corporations.
It’s good news for those of us who are independent consultants, but large companies need to understand that cutting overall costs by getting rid of experienced professional communicators on their staffs has its risks — and so does hiring outside communications consultants who lack the business experience of seasoned (read “older, more expensive”) professional communications executives.
For those of you too young to remember, “Soylent Green” was a very counterculturish 1973 film in which young people in a future society were trying to figure out what mysterious things were going on in the company that produced a popular environmentally friendly (!) food biscuit called “Soylent Green.”
At the end of the movie it turns out they were turning the senior citizens into processed food bars.
Sort of like what’s happening in corporate America to the seasoned, experienced PR staffs — with the result being articles like this one in the Times, about how the business leaders can’t understand why they are doing such a bad job of communicating about the importance of their business.
When you outsource your communications to someone who wasn’t even born when the Penn Central Railroad defaulted on its commercial paper (1970), or whose parents were in elementary school when John Lennon died (1980), you are going to be communicating with your constituencies through a lens that cannot provide any context for the overall evolution of your business over more than a single business cycle. Businesses generally do outlast a complete business cycle, but they often expect to tell their story by using people who’ve only been there a few months or years at the most.
If companies are going to downsize their communications teams and rely on outside counsel, they need to stop regarding their former communications leaders as raw input for the Soylent Green factory, and demand that their outside PR firms engage the services of some individuals with experience, communications skills, and an understanding of context — how the business operates, and why it is important.
It’s not just about how many clips you show to the C-Suite. As the movie says, “Soylent Green is…people.”