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Issue - 1 | November 2012

TRUST IS DEAD LONG LIVE TRUST WHAT’S INSIDE Viewpoint is a quarterly thought publication produced by The PRactice. Please send your views and feedback to |


COMMUNICATION IN THE AGE OF DISTRUST From corporate greed to sleaze in public of�ice, there are enough reasons for people to tune out. Can companies regain their attention – and trust? These are the best of times. Globalisation is opening doors everywhere and technology advances are transforming lives, rather than just improving them. These are also the worst of times. There is simmering discontent around the globe in the wake of major political and economic developments. The leadership gaps laid bare by the Arab revolution, the mood in recession-hit Europe, Occupy Wall Street protests against corporate excess, Indians’ weariness with the graft culture in the country… the disenchantment with entities, organisations and powerful individuals is at an all-time high. It’s not easy for companies to break through this cloud of distrust. But it can be done. This issue of Viewpoint uses its contributors’ lenses to look more closely

at how organisations can evoke trust: the foundation on which it is based and how sound communication can further the cause. We dig around with the modern tools of the trade (read: social media) and isolate the main factor in driving brand likeability and acceptance. We also examine news reporting in its present day form and how it needs to evolve in order to win the con�idence of its audience. Lastly, in a slightly of�beat perspective, we explore the plot of redemption and the way it unfolds in life and art. Sound like heavy reading? Don’t worry; it’s not. But we hope it will get our readers thinking and jumpstart some coffee break conversations. After all, where there’s an issue, there is sure to be many a viewpoint! IN THIS ISSUE: Ethics and the Organisation: A perspective on building and sustaining organizational character Filling the Communication Vacuum: Why clear and consistent communication is important – in good times and bad It’s Not Really About Social Media: In building trust, likeability and in�luence, brands may need a different approach to social media marketing Your News – With a Side of Opinion: The shifts in reporting style that will give news organisations more credibility Alterpoint: The Road to Redemption



How do organisations come to be perceived as beacons of trust? Such a reputation doesn’t form overnight. Instead, it is based on organisational character, something that develops over time, aided by a consistent demonstration of ethical behaviour.

Business and government entities face a serious crisis of con�idence in society today. A recent spate of political scams has deepened the sense of disillusionment with the government. On the corporate front, misappropriation and accounting scandals involving the likes of Satyam and Reebok have called the ethics of business leaders and the judgement of those responsible for hiring them, into question. Character Maketh the Organisation Even though business decisions are made by individuals, their motivation and implications are tied to the entire organisation. Over time, these decisions present a pattern that settles to create distinct organisational character. An incident from my own consulting experience underscores this theory. Two large companies were faced with an identical ethical dilemma when both realised that the key account managers responsible for some large and imminent business deals were forging bills and siphoning funds from the companies. Their options were to terminate the individuals involved immediately or wait until the deals in question were �inalised before doing so. The two organisations handled the matter very differently. The one decided to wait it out so as not to jeopardise the pending deal. The other immediately terminated the account manager’s services and briefed the prospective customer on the situation, winning the latter’s goodwill and con�idence in the process. It also

made it clear that its principles were not up for negotiation and that a robust value system lay at the heart of its culture. The Building Blocks and Cement This process of using a core set of principles to guide ethical decision-making and action – consistently and over extended periods of time – helps in shaping organisational character. There is another important factor at play here and these are the critical decision points sometimes termed as ‘de�ining moments’1. For an organisation, such moments may manifest themselves in big and small decisions involving its people, processes or products. De�ining moments shape an organisation because they cut through all the statements about what a company aspires to do and reveal instead what it actually does. They set precedents and create expectations that in�luence a company for years, or even longer. An example of a de�ining moment for several service organisations came during the recent �inancial crisis when they had to make some tough personnel decisions in order to cut costs. Some laid off employees, others withheld promotions and increments, still others made cuts at the managerial level, or deferred the offers they had recently made to new candidates. Employees of one organisation, however, opted for a pay freeze that would allow them to retain jobs and honour the offers that had already been extended. This was combined with active employee engagement to keep morale up in the company. Two years later, the company’s recent recruits voted it ‘an employer of choice’ in a survey, citing management’s willingness to make �inancial sacri�ices for the greater good, as well as initiatives that showed the company really ‘cared’ about its employees. Making it Work Organisations must create systems that support this type of character development. They will have to

“De�ining moments shape an organisation because they cut through all the statements about what a company aspires to do and reveal instead what it actually does”

[1] Badaracco, Joseph L. (1997). De�ining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Wrong. Harvard Business Press.



pay special attention to personnel decisions, particularly when senior positions and lateral movements are involved. A principle-based selection process is clearly the �irst step in the direction. Personnel research shows that sound induction and mentoring are both effective in nurturing values and character, apart from the skills required for the job. Last but not least, it is critical to have incentive systems that drive ethical behaviour. The recent �inancial crisis illustrated what happens when incentive structures drive a self-serving, get-rich-quick philosophy rather than support the responsibilities of the organisation to its stakeholders. Since principles are �irst demonstrated at the individual level before they can de�ine the larger organisation, leaders with a strong sense of personal integrity are vital to the process. Over time, the principles of the organisation get embedded in its practices, processes and systems and evolve in a way that is independent of its members. This is institutionalisation and it is the key to true organisational character. Vasanthi Srinivasan is an Associate Professor at IIM-Bangalore in the area of Organisational Behaviour and Human Resource Management. She is also the Chair of the Centre for Corporate Governance and Citizenship and maintains a website ( designed to promote teaching of business ethics and corporate social responsibility among business faculty in India.

There is a great deal of noise in the public domain but very little in the form of clear and consistent communication. Tired of in�lated claims and varnished truths, audiences are pushing back. In this environment, it’s more important than ever before for a public entity to �ind its steady voice and get in touch with its credible side.

A communication de�icit in times when so much is being said – through myriad communication channels and at soaring decibels – is a strange paradox. As the theatrics of everyday life unfold around us, we struggle to process the onslaught of information, evaluate the data thrown at us by battling entities, judge the integrity of carriers of that information, and create our own opinions based on all of the above. The world is indeed a stage with everyone (well, almost everyone) craving the limelight and a few �leeting moments of fame. So what if the scripts are marked by dissonance and cacophony and the protagonists are jingoistic megalomaniacs who are trying too hard to connect with their audiences. For those on the receiving end, it’s a challenge to separate truth from �iction, or honesty from hype. How do we know whom to trust or believe? Do we suspend judgement and go with the most entertaining or loudest voice? Or do we process information based on fact, history and context? The problem today is not that we don’t communicate enough but that we have


lost sight of what it means to communicate effectively – in a way that fosters clarity rather than breeds speculation and more ambiguity. In a rapidly changing socio-economic environment marked by growth, reforms and sweeping changes in lifestyle, good communication is a responsibility – for strategists, policymakers, corporations and the media. This involves getting back to basics, and that can still be done today, even as media evolves digitally and every person at a keyboard wields power. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln: “Those who look for bad in people (or situations) will surely �ind it.” In the current climate of cynicism, it is unfashionable and a tad naïve to ‘believe’ or ‘trust’, even if one wants to. Objectivity is forsaken for speculation, because everyone is both less trusting and less trustworthy. In such an environment, the messenger, the message and the method play a big role in delivering a much needed coherence. There is no one-way street here, no placid acceptance of what one hears. What is required is for the messenger to “stick to message” and communicate for clarity rather than communicate to confuse. It rankles then, when senior statesmen or others we hold in regard make sweeping statements; or when corporations shy away from providing timely or any information; or when the media encourage shamelessly partisan debates that can’t see the wood for the trees. Perhaps,if they were to stop and consider the following basic questions, it will help in re-establishing credibility: who will receive this information and in what context; what will its impact be; can we vouch for the integrity of the information; can we pre-empt questions that arise after its dissemination; can we make a real attempt to address these questions honestly and to the best of our abilities. Information �inds ways to break free and can’t be withheld for long from stakeholders. It isn’t strange anymore to see news of infrastructure

“The problem today is not that we don’t communicate enough but that we have lost sight of what it means to communicate effectively – in a way that fosters clarity rather than breeds speculation and further ambiguity”

development, government projects or corporate expansion being broken prematurely by real estate agents. Corporations are caught unawares when the media gain access to documents through well-placed ‘sources’. Employees can share internal information on management changes and other developments with the click of a button. The charges of inaction levelled against the UPA government, the collapse of King�isher Airlines, the panicked exodus from Bangalore of people from the Northeast, the recent exposés by India Against Corruption and the general public reaction to them – all these examples serve to illustrate an important point. That the inability to speak up clearly, or to speak up at all – about the crucial “whys”, about goals and contingency plans, about bene�its and challenges – can cause a breakdown in con�idence and lead to intense speculation. Let’s face it – many of us are still happy to talk and be in the news when times are good, but are quick to pull the shutters down when the going gets tough. It takes courage, belief and a sense of accountability to be able to maintain open channels of communication at all times. The recent debates on privacy have drawn mixed reactions and with good reason. When representatives of a fraternity that has largely been shielded from any form of accountability lobby for

“Let’s face it – many of us are still happy to talk and be in the news when times are good, but are quick to pull the shutters down when the going gets tough. It takes courage, belief and a sense of accountability to be able to maintain open channels of communication at all times.”


privacy, it is bound to raise eyebrows. Transparency in public life – for corporations and for individuals such as sportspeople and artists who are institutions in themselves – is both an obligation and an expectation. The increasing clamour for transparency will alleviate the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome that has emerged in our society in gargantuan proportions. At the same time, we must be cognisant of the �ine line between transparency and privacy. Without the right checks and balances, these cleansing efforts will overstep boundaries resulting in more acrimony and negativity. We are now engaged in a blind race with no clear winner or �inish line in sight. Straightforward communication, based on facts rather than self-serving interests, is the need of the hour. Credible communication must avoid the trap of instant grati�ication if it has to diffuse the currents of distrust swirling around us.

Nandita Lakshmanan is the CEO of The PRactice.


Ever since social media has become a must-have in a marketer’s toolkit, brands are �locking to be present and engaging on these platforms. In the process, though, they may be losing sight of what it really takes to build trust, likeability and in�luence. That realisation is likely to lead to a new and more effective approach to social media marketing.

Good news. Bad news. It spreads easily. Being good. Doing good. Raising a voice for good and bad. We see it all around us. Brand launches. Offers. Reviews. Events. We are surrounded by them. Indeed, we are swamped. By options. By advertising. By messages from people we know. And those we don’t. Six degrees of separation? Sometimes it seems more like one click of separation. Or rather one click to connect. We can connect with anything, anyone... anywhere, anytime. 24x7x365 is not about customer service anymore, but about our lives. Geography is history. Time zones are immaterial. The water cooler is no longer something in one corner of the of�ice around which of�ice workers gather but has become a status update that can reach virtually anyone, anywhere, in the time it takes to click on a button. Brands have woken up to this new reality; a reality driven by the power of technology and the spread of devices. They have kept pace with the growth and development of the Internet and embraced social media. Websites are passé. Social media is the new digital home of many brands. That’s not surprising since that’s where the people are, and where the action has shifted. Almost 1 in 7 persons on this planet is on Facebook. If it were a country, the ‘Republic’ of Facebook would be the third most populous one on the planet after China and India. Twitter users crossed 100 million a while back. Youtube has more new content uploaded every week than the leading American TV


networks produced in decades. These numbers make brands drool. And spur them to mount aggressive marketing and advertising campaigns centred around social media. These are aimed at aggregating large numbers of ‘fans’. And then talking to them, interacting with them, in�luencing them. They create elaborate strategies around social media marketing. Many work, some don’t. The ones that work propel marketers to do more and more of the same. The ones that don’t usually get marketers to increase investments in the short term, because the ‘others’ seem to be seeing success. Large campaigns. Backed by large budgets. And an almost rabid focus to talk to consumers. Engage them. Get them to ‘Like’ the brand, and to share it with their friends. It works – to a point. But really, this approach misses the bigger point. That social media marketing is not about marketing. Or even about the media (read: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube). But it is about being social. Social, in a manner that enables the audience to talk to one another. With the brand playing benign host and providing the stimulus, the means, and sometimes the incentive, for its audience to stay at its party and interact with their friends. To tell others what’s happening. To invite them over. To make new friends. This social manner can help unleash the ultimate in�luencer for brands – the power of the audience, or of People as Media. Yes, it’s no longer newspapers, television channels and websites that provide the best returns for a brand. They might provide reach, and an opportunity to see or interact. But what they miss is the power of ‘People like me’. The ripples of in�luence that come from the people carrying a message, instead of the channel carrying it. These ripples spread and create waves. These waves get powerful as they overlap and spread further and farther. Look back at any of the key events of the last few years, and you will see that the difference between success and failure wasn’t just an idea, a campaign,

“Social media marketing is not about marketing. Or even about the media. But it is about being social.”

or a cause. But how the idea got picked up and drove people to make it their own. To champion and spread. Think Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign. Or the BP oil spill from a few years back. The Egyptian Revolution. Or any brand campaign that touched you. In fact, you can look back over 80 years to the Civil Disobedience Movement in India. Mahatma Gandhi’s idea was wrapped in strong conviction. And it spread across India. Through cities, towns and villages. From person to person. Through families, friends, communities. Till its reverberation brought down an empire. This is the power of People as Media at work. Long before we knew media as we know it now. Long before technology enabled the interconnectivity we see today. Long before social media platforms were born. Long before one could ‘Like’ something and ‘Share’ it. Today, with modern tools and technology, making People your Media is that much easier. Or that much harder. Depending on what you see as Media. And what you view as Social. But one thing is certain. The difference between a campaign that’s noticed and one that creates real brand love and trust is bigger than the idea, the creative, and the cause. The difference lies with People as Media – people who can give the campaign wings and impact. Unlike that of any other medium.

“Today, with modern tools and technology making People your Media is that much easier. Or that much harder.”

Ashok Lalla is the Global Head of Digital Marketing at Infosys and an award-winning Digital, Brand and Social Media Marketing leader. He can be found tweeting at @ashoklalla.



With a presentation style veering towards shrillness and sensationalism, Indian media may have retained its subscribers but is fast losing its credibility with them. Regaining this means making some adjustments in the placement, tone and pitch of news stories.

When told by an artist he had commissioned that there was no war to be covered in Cuba, the late American news publisher, William Randolph Hearst, is said to have quipped, “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war”. This exchange is possibly an urban myth but there’s no denying that Hearst did in�luence the US newspaper industry in a big way and is largely credited with spearheading the ‘yellow’ journalism trends of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the years that followed, however, muckraking in American daily news gave way to a steady objectivity. This shift, surprisingly, was not driven by ethics as much as by economics. According to an interesting perspective offered by the Economist (The Future of News, July 2011), impartiality in reporting was actually designed to broaden a newspaper’s appeal to subscribers and thereby, to its advertisers. Journalists who followed this code of conduct also enjoyed greater job security. “Objectivity’, according to a New York University journalism professor quoted in the article ‘is a grand bargain between all the players [in the �ield]”. So, where does objectivity �it in the modern Indian context? Yellow journalism may be a strong label for the brand of reporting that we often see in print and broadcast media. However, with the exception of a few channels and publications, coverage is

unabashedly sensationalistic. Events and personalities are cast in shades of black and white. Every political scandal, big or small, is tagged with the suf�ix of ‘gate’ and framed as a conspiracy against the general public. These tendencies are stronger on television with its limited window of opportunity to grab the viewer’s attention. In local and regional coverage, the tone is even more harsh and shrill. This is necessary, at one level, but unfortunate, at another. It’s necessary because the state of our socio-political affairs calls for a certain amount of activism and engagement on the part of the media. It requires a spirited approach, unlike the deadpan and bloodless reporting style seen before the 24-hour news cycle. It demands an appetite for dogged investigation and probing, something that Indian media has ably demonstrated over the years. However, where this approach fails is in becoming so extreme and one-sided that it loses the audience. Most people these days absorb news reports with a healthy dose of scepticism due to the blaring, shifting headlines and rampant speculation in them. Of course, if we are to apply a pro�itability �ilter and view the whole exercise as a drive for subscribers and followers, truly objective reporting (as immortalised in journalism textbooks) may never again be common practice. In an environment where old models are being challenged, newspapers and TV channels are being forced to reinvent themselves in order to survive the landscape shifts. This has caused news to become infotainment, lying somewhere at the intersection of reality TV and scoop journalism. Neutrality and impartiality get pushed to the background in this scenario. Financial imperatives apart, there is a towering crisis of credibility for India’s news industry and this can only be tackled by having a new form of objectivity replace the old standard. Under this rede�ined form, there will be time slots and column space once again for balanced reporting. Just as there will be for grounded analysis and opinion. The two just won’t be forced together in an embellished

“Most people these days absorb news reports with a healthy dose of scepticism due to the blaring, shifting headlines and rampant speculation in them.”



mix of fact and judgement. With the boundaries redrawn, the media will act as a chronicler and interpreter of events rather than as a prosecutor of real or overblown crimes. Along the way, it will maintain complete transparency – in revealing its sources, methods and motivations. In short, the media can and should take a stand as long as it arrives at its position after �irst presenting an unvarnished view of the situation and weighing all the facts surrounding it. Under this new standard of objectivity, the neutral voices of a past reporting era are not completely snuffed out. Their pitch is just adjusted to accommodate rational arguments and well-articulated opinion. News will then regain credibility and the trust equation with the audience will be re-established.

Life and art provide plenty of examples of trust betrayed and promises broken. How do those who stray �ind their way back? It depends on the original status of the perpetrator, the medium, and the desired message.

Within every celebrity downfall lie the seeds of a comeback. Take Bill Clinton or Robert Downey Jr., for example. With their misadventures fading from public memory and their personal demons locked up, they quickly moved back into the light – one as a popular former president; the other as an ironclad superhero with a healthy ego. Celebrities, it seems, have an edge in the area of second chances. Fame and success allow them a free spin at the redemption wheel, or one large peg to grab on the slope of image revival. For those of us watching, there is a need to feel vindicated in backing them in the �irst place. This undercurrent of support becomes stronger with any manifestation of their old brilliance. Every time Downey Jr. delivers a box of�ice hit, Clinton enthralls with his oratory, or Tiger Woods proves he can still come in under par, we nod with satisfaction. We knew they had it in them, we tell ourselves. Their stories become the stuff of comeback legend – winning examples of resilience and willpower. How long it takes famous wrongdoers to claw their way out of disgrace depends on their ‘pre culpa’ popularity as well as the nature of their crimes. With a one-time lapse, they will land directly on the trampoline that will propel them back in public favour. Chronic offenders, on the other hand, will soon run out of their forgiveness passes.

Sangita Srinivasa is a feature and content writer based in Bangalore. She maintains a blog at


Consider the cases of Rajat Gupta and Lance Armstrong, two former icons of rectitude and courage, whose fortunes have recently taken a nosedive. Based on the parameters above, it seems likely that Gupta will be back soon, following a brief incarceration. After all, he didn’t personally pro�it from his slip-up – in sharing corporate secrets with a hedge fund manager – and led a largely exemplary life spanning philanthropy and consulting before he crossed the line. His offense appears to be a lapse of reason rather than a calculated attempt to beat the system. Armstrong’s case is a little more complicated, however. The large amount of equity he had built, as a champion who conquered cancer, among many cycling titles, is now considerably depleted by the evidence that he cheated his way to winning. And since he dragged his entire team through a systematic and sustained doping program, it leaves us with a jumbled view of the man that will take time to sort out. The movies often handle the redemption theme with more drama and less nuance. In the ‘70s Bollywood hit Deewar, two brothers who choose divergent black and white career paths clash in a climax that features blood, tears, keening music, and a full maternal pardon. It’s a potboiler ending but an apt one in which the female �igure that inspired one of the most famous responses in Hindi cinema (‘Mere paas ma hai’ or ‘I have my mother with me’) holds the key to the wayward son’s salvation. Love – unconditional or otherwise – also �igures prominently in delivering many Hollywood characters from the brink. Take Darth Vader, that cult rider of the

“Celebrities, it seems, have an edge in the area of second chances. Fame and success allows them a free spin at the redemption wheel”

personal transformation arc. Pulled into the dark side by a conspiracy of circumstances and forces, this con�licted villain ultimately �inds redemption in the arms of his son, Luke. As his asthmatic breathing tapers off, fans can take comfort in concluding that this tormented soul is now headed back to his ‘good’ roots. The message in religious texts is not quite as restrained. The Hindu scriptures (at least, according to some interpretations) are quite clear on what it takes to win rebirth rights. An errant soul will need to do its time in purgatory and this means a trip to Yama Loka and some severe handling by Yama, that purveyor of death and justice. Depending on his read of the situation, he may choose to boil the wrongdoer in oil or roast him over a slow �ire. After this cleansing routine – the equivalent of a karmic spa treatment – the soul will emerge: rejuvenated, refreshed and ready to be reborn. If there is a common ingredient in these examples, it is retribution. You have to face the music, serve your sentence, spend some time trapped in a hard head mask or one made of your own feelings of regret. The road to redemption may be treacherous and unpredictable; full of hairpin bends and steep drops before it �inally ends at a place from where one can begin again – on an almost clean slate.



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