PR Legend: Björn Edlund

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Björn Edlund was CCO over a 20-year period with Royal Dutch Shell, ABB and Sandoz. Previously he worked for 12 years as staff correspondent and news editor at UPI and Reuters. He is co-chair of the Institute for Human Rights and Business and a visiting fellow at Henley Business School, and runs Edlund Consulting Ltd.

Good communicators help companies take a 360-degree view. Our key contribution is helping our leadership ‘think things through’. Everything else we do flows from there – as the stewards of brand, the protectors of reputation, the guardians of culture, the articulators of purpose. As an art, craft and science, our discipline has three goals: communications creates meaning; it creates community; it creates space for the business to grow.

Our mission is based on conveying an attractive narrative, but our defining challenge is engagement. We add value by understanding our stakeholders’ reality and thus ensuring that the company can work constructively with all who have an interest in us. Reputation is built as much through company behavior and performance as through communications.

So, we explain the world to the company, and the company to the world. We help the C Suite understand our stakeholders views, expectations and aspirations – the so-called “pre-existing social contract”. We build door-opening engagements into our business strategies.

Good companies run on a potent mix of strategy, culture and purpose. To this end, they need a strong IQ, a solid EQ and something I call SQ (societal intelligence). IQ is behind strategy. Strategy is about what we do and how we do it.  Companies need a vibrant culture based on shared values and expressed through sound behaviours. That’s where EQ sits. A company in tune with society will always fare better. To tie culture and strategy into an attractive proposition, they need a clearly articulated purpose expressing their role in society – why we exist, our raison d’être. This is SQ – understanding how the world works.

In the wider context, business today is under siege and its role poorly understood. Many young people see business as “a necessary evil’’. So as communicators, we also must be ambassadors for Good Capitalism. That makes for attractive PR career prospects, creating opportunities for young people who can imagine a better future, can listen, can see around corners, write well, understand people – and who have the courage to speak up. Because the Good in Good Capitalism must be nurtured.

For those aiming for a communications career in business, here is some personal advice: study business, political science, economics; learn how society works. Perfect your PR craft, especially writing. Devour information, create your own insights. Read widely – both fiction and non-fiction. Build broad general knowledge and a deep understanding of global cultures and make it your obsession to truly understand both how people tick and the world works.

Unique insights are what the organization requires from us, advice built on a solid understanding of the operating environment and all influences on it. Otherwise we, too, risk becoming obedient fact churners. Communicators should always speak up – and keep a sound distance to all they counsel. Our duty is to be loyal, not subservient.

Finally, good communications functions must ensure a sound culture, an optimized structure and efficient processes. As communications leaders, we must nurture constructive inter-dependencies in our teams, so our team members can grow.







Published: May 6, 2019