African Echo: Of litmus tests, playgrounds & waste collectors
by Taazima Kala-Essack (@taazimakala) Watching kids on the playground or working together in the classroom may shape your insights in a truly marvelous way. They work together and they make friends or are open to doing so without judgement pretty quickly. Their ability to focus on a given task is strong, and they typically don’t overthink any of it at all. Why is this important?
First we need to digress…
Someone once told me that how a business treats its most-menial supplier or employee outside of a public eye is pretty much the best litmus test for the true moral compass of that business. Albert Einstein famously once said: “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”
One might argue the need for morality or even basic human kindness isn’t the purpose of a business, or even why one goes into business. Try as one might to argue it, a healthy (or healthier than healthy) bottom line is the biggest target of any entrepreneur, with other ambitions coming in thereafter. But, in my few years of being in the vocational jungle — and it is very much a jungle — I still can’t get my head around the fact that some see good relationship practice and a healthy business as mutually exclusive.
Don’t get me wrong; there are cut-throat businesses doing just fine in the world, and “good” businesses batting no higher than mediocre. But every life lesson to date points to prioritising relationships with every possible stakeholder, suppliers included.
Business of building relationships
And yet, ask anyone in our industry — marketing and communications — and they will argue it is among the biggest pain points. Of course, I might be biased, for working in public relations inherently tells you to focus on the business of communications and relations, but I would argue everyone, regardless of sector or industry, is also in the business of building relationships.
Suppliers, regulators and others stand to influence one’s business just as much as the employees and clients of a business. Each are to be invested in almost equally, lest the proverbial structure collapse. In this way, we are all, at heart, relationship-builders.
So, back to the kids in the playground …
There’s likely a little bully somewhere and, yet, even the other kids will know that it won’t get them far to behave in the same manner. They are taught, even conditioned, to see that “playing nice” is what will get you ahead. And it doesn’t deter from the need to play cleverly, either.
Acknowledgement & appreciation
So, in the real working world, how are we investing in our relationships? How are we actively working to build better relationships towards better business? I’m not suggesting there’s a single answer or solution, and surely there’s no single silver bullet to get the job done, but perhaps the first step ought to be the simple exercise of working to acknowledge the people or entities who stand to make our efforts better or more successful, and appreciate them for it. We need to recognise where we ought to do more and do better, and begin there. Nomsa can’t win at stuck in the mud if she doesn’t have all the other kids who matter helping and rooting for her, maximising shareholder value.
We’re especially guilty of it in the marketing world, for we see the gaping holes and, often, because we’re living right in there, don’t speak up enough to break free of the “you’re the agency, so just do it” state of things. The best agencies or consultancies, like the best businesses, do their best in collaboration and partnership. We see this just looking at examples of amazing work out there. Working with clients, rather than just for clients, and adding value beyond expectation as a result, and making absolute magic because of it.
So, how do we play ‘nicer’ with the other kids in the sandpit, and why aren’t we doing more of that? It could make for better business, stronger industry, and, at the end of the day, better people and better communicators.
Spell the difference
As Stephen Waddington once put it: “It’s an irony of modern corporate communications that investment in reputation will always get cut short term in favour of maximising shareholder value.” But does it have to be? Whether you’re in the comms space or not, it could spell the difference between being a good but profitable business, or being an amazing and profitable business.
Chances are, as a customer, we’d all prefer to sign up with the latter, no? I’d certainly rather not be helped by a playground bully, or someone who doesn’t appreciate their waste collector, even behind closed doors.
Taazima Kala-Essack (@taazimakala) is lead consultant at Hotwire PRC, a public relations consultancy aligned with Botswana-based FCB Wired, one of the agencies in the FCB Africa network. African Echo seeks to unpack markets in Africa, highlight business opportunities and share insights into what works and what rebounds.
“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on MarkLives.com. Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.