How PR pros are stewards of corporate character

USAA’s chief communications officer explains why it’s up to PR pros to maintain that character, and how to do it.

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PR professionals wear a lot of different hats, but according to Wendi Strong, executive vice president of enterprise affairs and chief communications officer for USAA, their chief role is to protect their brands’ corporate character.

In remarks at The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations’ annual John Koten Distinguished Lecture last month, Strong emphasized that corporate character is at the intersection of brand and reputation. Organizations must be genuine, authentic and consistent to sway public opinion in their favor. She offered up five areas in which corporate character is important:

1. Transparency. As the Internet and social media evolve, brand managers have new avenues through which they can interact with the public in unprecedented ways. Nearly everything an organization does is out in the open.

“That puts a premium on corporate character and ethical behavior,” Strong said. “Today’s organizations have little choice but to walk the talk.”

2. Commoditization. Products and services are becoming less of what sells a brand. People will decide what to buy or whom to support based on how they perceive the brand and what it’s known for.

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