Developing corporate character at IBM

Developing corporate character at IBM

The final presentation at the excellent PRSA Digital Impact Conference in New York came from Edward Bevan, Vice President IBM Brand System Strategy. Edward not only had a great set of slides, he also talked theory.

Now, we’ve been talking about systems theory and PR for as long as I’ve been teaching PR...and that’s ten years now. But what Edward is doing at IBM is using it to develop what he calls “corporate character”. Intriguing. His interpretation of systems theory led to an analysis that the planet is becoming smarter, you can’t design or control a complex system, and technology alone is not the answer. Edward had lots of great examples to back these points up, such as how focusing on one factor alone for climate change, e.g. CO2 emissions, will still not affect projected sea level rises.

So, what does this mean for public relations in a digital age? The big message is that digital networks have made corporate culture and corporate reputation indivisible. The implications of this are:

    • Thoughtful discourse, not messaging


    • Deeper understanding (issues, systems, behavior)


    • Wider collaboration


    • New approaches to measuring results

It was clear that Edward is doing a lot of consultation with IBM employees on developing “corporate character” and it would have been good to have heard more about this. If corporate culture and reputation are indivisible, then internal communication has to be the primary focus for corporate communication.

This was a great presentation that showed how theory can be applied for more effective communication. Good luck to the team at IBM, it will be interesting to see how their “corporate character” emerges in the years ahead.