As conversations become the principal characteristic of company-public engagement, the relationships themselves will prove more valuable to organizations than influence. As with the notion of the mission statement, focusing on relationships for their own sake will surely lead to the outcomes organizations seek (sales, friendly regulatory environments, minimal activist activity, support for initiatives, etc.). Or, to put it more simply, who needs to wield influence when you’ve got friends?
There are some very interesting observations in this lengthy piece, well worth reading. Intuitively, unless you're an economist, we don't ask 'what is the point of having friends' and in the corporate world everyone knows the power of the 'right connections' or any connections at all for that matter. But when it comes to PR, communications with internal and external stakeholders, we tend to adopt a far more utilitarian approach and only focus on relationships when we want something.
On a side point, this is how my mind works, I was listening to Christopher Kremmer speaking about India at the Sydney Writers' Festival on Saturday and one point he made is that in India, for all its troubles, democracy feels much more alive there then in Australia.
One reason for that, I would argue, is that politics here has ceased to be a participatory activity. Every few years politicians offer an inducement and a promise to do better than the other guy and the voters make their choices. It is not engaging. There ae no extensive membership bases anymore and politicans don't have robust relationships with the electorate. To reinvigorate, they need to do what Shel proposes for other organisations and build relationships first and then the influence will follow.