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PR as a Company’s ...

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I spoke on the shape of communications in 2021 at a Silicon Valley IABC event last month.

Any discussion of this unique alchemy called “Silicon Valley” typically involves innovation, valuations and iguanas roaming the hallways. For the PR function, our job has been to gather this raw content and make sense of it for the outside world.

That won’t be enough looking to the future.

Society issues are intersecting with business in a way that all communicators — not just public affairs or  government relations or the CSR jockeys — will move to the front lines, at least those working in Silicon Valley.

The idea has been percolating in my mind since Jolie O’Dell went Hunter Thompson in 2013 and wrote the piece, “$4 Toast: Why the Tech Industry Is Ruining San Francisco.”VB $4 Toast 02-16Her stop at The Mill for breakfast triggered:

“Good toast and a plain cup of coffee shouldn’t cost $6. But I can’t imagine the tech community putting the brakes on this trend any time soon. We’re obsessed with false ideas of quality. We fetishize the precious processes and benchmarks and prices that, in reality, have no bearing on how good something is.”

The issue of the “haves” and “have nots” — or in O’Dell’s parlance, the toast-etariat and the proletariat — permeates every affluent geography. It’s when the “have nots” feel that the “haves” don’t really give a damn that can lead to combustible reactions. It feels like we’re headed down this road.

And economics is only one of the many issues peppering today’s Silicon Valley.

The push for diversity, race and gender is in the early days. Don’t mistake stories like the recent one in Bloomberg Businessweek as an introspective moment.BW - Coders Like Us 02-16They haven’t left a lasting imprint.

Still, we will eventually see the collective will of advocacy groups and NGO come down on Silicon Valley in a way that threatens the oxygen supply. Old-fashioned picket lines would be particularly unsettling to employees at Silicon Valley companies where Philz Coffee running out of the Tesora blend causes upheaval.

The little activism in Silicon Valley tends to be self-serving with companies such as Airbnb and Uber tapping Beltway operatives to lead the charge. They’re not interested in making the community a better place for everyone. Their end game is monetizing that sofa bed and idle car.

With that said, I do think Silicon Valley companies will eventually figure out that it’s in their best interest to make the community a better place for everyone. The communications that goes into the effort will be mission-critical. Furthermore, it’s an opportunity for the communications function to have a say in the actions, not only communicating the thrust of those actions.

Yes, this will protect the brand, but there’s something even more fundamental to long-term success going on here. The supply of talent can’t keep up with Silicon Valley demand. With millennials representing an increasing percent of the work force, how a company “behaves” takes on greater importance.Life Goals Chart 02-16Needless to say, “selfish” is not a desirable brand attribute.

With this in mind, I see PR as the social conscience of a company.

More than communications, it involves ensuring alignment between a company’s values and how it actually acts.

Not a job for the squeamish.


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