Paulo Nassar: “Strategic communication must take social networks into account”
By Tato Carbonaro
Tato Carbonaro – How do you define strategic communication?
Paulo Nassar – Strategic communication is the communication that aligns the goals of a particular organization – company or institution – with the goals of society. In the current environment which is determined by a complex array of historical, political, cultural, behavioral and technological factors, it is predominantly a dialogical communication. Thus, strategic communications must not only take into account the point of view of the organization, but also the point of view of society, of social networks and its many stakeholders. In contemporary society there are no issues that do not concern, encourage or stimulate numerous points of view, that do not provoke controversy. Being strategic is to consider the dialogical movement, where the objectives of an organization take into account, in a sensible and democratic way, these points of view. It is important to seek consensus and adjustments that avoid crises generated by the imposition of an isolationist perspective, which often impedes many of the organizational objectives.
Carbonaro – What should be the role of the person responsible for communication in organizations in the twenty-first century?
Nassar – The role of the communications professional these days is multi faceted. They must have a solid communicational knowledge and be able to work with the many interfaces of communication. As a communicator, they should also understand that this knowledge is in constant dialogue with other fields, such as History, Philosophy, Political Science, Anthropology, Social Sciences, Physics, Mathematics, Psychology and, especially, Administration and Management. We cannot understand and practice communication in the twenty-first century unless we realize that it exists in the human environment, and that it is inserted in the communications network and in relationships between people and social networks. In addition, these multiple interactions are currently leveraged and potentialized by the various communication technologies we have at our disposal. The communications professional must have the sensibility to look at communication and see the public networks and relationships that are behind all our actions, using the policies, the processes and the tools most appropriate for each type of action.
If we think of the twenty-first century CCO, who is the leader of the communications area within organizations, we can say that they are the essential gatekeeper of organizational narratives. The territory of communication, in its various interfaces, is the narrative. It is the text (thinking of it comprehensively, in all its cultural, audiovisual, digital and analog forms and expressions) immersed in its context. The communicator who does not understand this, cannot work with these interfaces and thus will find it very difficult to meet the demands of the communications area.
Carbonaro – In recent years, greater importance has been given to intangible resources of an organization. How does this reality influence the the business strategies of organizations?
Nassar – The policies and organizational strategies in companies and institutions must have sufficient intellectual density to contemplate the technical, ethical and aesthetic elements, as well as to build narratives rooted in the management of communications. The reality of business strategies (for organizations and institutions) is influenced by how communication constructs its image and reputation, which is – in the last analysis – the way in which it creates its organizational narratives.
To have legitimacy, these policies and strategies should contain three basic elements: utility, compatibility and transcendence in their narratives. The first two, despite their complexity, are sufficiently practiced by organizations. The last, transcendence, is given less attention during difficult times and reduced budgets for corporate communications. With the social transformation of the last decades and the enhancement of communication dialogues, this has changed. It is not possible to build a communication strategy without the appreciation of narratives, which includes the insertion of intangible elements that help provoke the transcendence of communication strategies. Moreover, in a society that values diversity, communicational actions must be polyphonic. Policies based on backward and outdated ideas of the old Taylorism, expressed in communications as “one voice” or dictatorially integrated are unsustainable today. The Tower of Babel, which was once a curse, today is a blessing.
On the other hand, the communications area is increasingly responsible for providing measurable results that are in line with the core business of the company. This requires a balance between the tangible and intangible.
Carbonaro – Why is transparency important? Is it realistic, in the long run, for a firm to rely on transparency?
Nassar – The communicator, who is in charge of the narrative, should ensure the organizations’s ethos, principles and values, which are part of the ethical elements of organizational strategies. This set of elements is derived from the history and the memory of the organization that, it should be noted, does not exist in the abstract. It includes people who have been and are still a part of it. For this reason, the communicator must be aware of social changes and then propose the incorporation of new principles and values such as diversity, for example, so that the organization can address social demands. When this ethos is perceived as an ethic in society, it will be strengthened. Narratives must not be disparate or contrary to the principles and values that the organization professes. Of course, if there is any deviation or conflict, the communicator, as an advisor to the board of the organization, must make the necessary adjustments.
Therefore, transparency is what we strive for in today’s society. This issue is not in dispute, it is a social fact, a reality. Organizations or any other social institution cannot exist without transparency. The next generation, known as Generation Z, for example, does not necessarily seek a flawless or perfect company to work for. They want to work in an organization that admits their mistakes, takes responsibilities for their actions and communicates with society – a transparent organization.
Carbonaro – What is the importance of reputation? What are the main elements that influence the reputation of a country or an organization?
Nassar – An organization builds its reputation from its historical responsibility, which includes all the other responsibilities that an organization must have in relation to society: commercial, legal, environmental, cultural, social and political responsibilities, in a systemic framework related to human activities. The organization must be seen from a timeline which conveys its dynamic energy, moving between past and future, to be able to build a legitimate narrative in the present. In this context, communication is like Janus, the Roman god, who looked in all directions and then integrated, in the present moment, tradition and innovation.
Both the reputation of a country and an organization must pass through this accumulated history of its narrative. Without a well-established plot in time and space, no organization will have a solid reputation. It is important to remember that the narrative should not only be the result of the creativity of the communicator, but it should also be based on historical responsibility, technique, ethics and an aesthetic that is most appropriate to the social context. It is no accident that this has reinforced, in various organizations, the position of the CRO – chief reputation officer, a professional specifically dedicated to it.
The particularity of a country’s narrative is that its accumulated history has been manipulated over time, for good or for bad, depending on each situation, and on the many narrators of this history. The image of a powerful state, or a failed one, is not necessarily connected to the reality of the facts. As Walter Benjamin said, every document related to the culture of a state is also a document of barbarism. It all depends on how this narrative was passed by over time.
Carbonaro – Why do you consider the CIBECOM conference important for the present and future development of organizations?
Nassar – It is important to note that we, as Latin Americans, with a population of over 500 million people, have developed, both in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, communication as a social and professional field of activity, as defined by Émile Durkheim in his sociology of labour. The French sociologist writes about the three pillars that a given profession is built on: professional practice, theory and the capacity to associate. Communicators in Latin America have the practice and the theory of communication, but we still lack a space to come together and project our knowledge and practice beyond our national boundaries.
CIBECOM provides a unique opportunity for the community of Latin American journalists to establish a space to associate in a structured and ceremonial environment. CIBECOM is our great rite of passage. This is even more relevant for a country like Brazil, separated from its neighbors by historical barriers that, for a long time, forced us to live “like crabs clawing each other’s backs,” in the words of Vicente Salvador, the seventeenth century Luso-Brazilian historian. The community of Brazilian communicators has turned its focus and attention back to Latin America, and undoubtedly CIBECOM provides a great opportunity to strengthen these ties.
Paulo Nassar is the president of the Brazilian Association for Business Communication (Aberje) and Associate Professor at the School of Communications and Arts at the University of São Paulo (ECA-USP). He has a PhD in Communication Sciences and a postdoctoral degree from IULM-Libera Universitá di Lingue e Comunicazione (Milan). Nassar also coordinates the Study Group of New Narratives (GENN – ECA / USP) at the University of Sao Paulo. In 2012 he won the distinguished Atlas Award for Lifetime Achievement In International Public Relations, given by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). The award recognizes individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the practice and profession of public relations on a global scale.
Tato Carbonaro is the manager of Public Affairs and International Relations at the Brazilian Association for Business Communication (Aberje). He is also a PhD student at the School of Communication and Arts at the University of São Paulo (ECA-USP). Carbonaro graduated in journalism and has a master’s degree in Communication Sciences. His thesis, Narratives of a Country, was recognized as the best master’s thesis by ECA-USP (The University of Sao Paulo) in 2015. The study deals with the relationships between foreign policy and national identity in the formation of a Brazilian narrative. Carbonaro is also a teacher assistant at the University of São Paulo.
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