Views on what constitutes a “good company” have evolved along with changes in business reality – from legislation on safety, environment and labor standards over industry’s mission in wartime to innovative leapfrogging, to shifts in global production patterns and consumer power.

What seems clear, in a succinct overview in Harvard Business Review online is that compared to earlier phases, today’s “good company” is in a tougher spot.

It is tougher because there are no hard and unavoidable metrics – that, along with a halo effect, also make best business sense – providing an impetus for change.

Compare in-company efficiencies, better product safety, total quality and better shareholder value with today’s demands for corporate social responsibility and the growing notion of creating shared societal value.

We are seeing a shift away from demands a company can internalize to drive market progress and prosper due to its happy customers, satisfied shareholders, motivated employees and benevolent government authorities.

In the HBR blog’s timeline, the New Century has the following text:

“In a decade bookended by burst bubbles, corporate reputations suffer as the public directs its anger at corruption and executive pay. Social entrepreneurs and multinationals see opportunities to make money by finding innovative ways to solve problems in the developing world. Companies from GE to Wal-Mart redefine their missions to include societal as well as economic value.”

I agree with the first statement, but I have my doubts that a paradigm shift can come from companies seeking to improve the economic and societal situation in the developing world. It will of course benefit the companies and communities involved.

I also don’t see societal value – in economic terms – as a mature metric that can be ready for widespread application anytime soon.

Most probably, the good company of tomorrow will need to find its compass to “better goodness” within its own values.

This is good news for the CCO as we strive to get PR fully recognized and deployed as a core strategic function. Why? One metric that will drive change is reputational value.

Good companies attract the best employees, find regulatory authorities easier to deal with, are welcomed in the communities where they operate, have more satisfied customers and a proud workforce. Their shareholders see improving returns – often over a longer term.

CCOs should own the softer, broader, inclusive and variegated metrics of reputational value. CCOs operate naturally at the nexus of values, culture, behavior, strategy and stakeholder expectations.

Therefore, CCOs can help the company as it strives for more goodness by helping its leaders develop societal competence – a set of mature insights that connects the company and the world and allows leaders to navigate today’s reality, an ever louder and crazier flux where key signals easily get lost in the noise.

Leaders remove ambiguities so that managers can create certainties. In good companies, they will realize that the way to stay in control often means knowing when to let go.

Measurements are likely to remain soft compared to those employed until the late 1980s.  Making the challenge to be seen as a good company harder places the chief PR strategist of any company even more at the center of decision-making.

Are we ready for these new demands on our profession?

Bjorn Edlund
Chairman Edelman, Europe, Middle East and Africa
Retd. EVP Communications, Royal Dutch Shell plc