Oral Histories

Alan Marks

Interview Segments on Topic: Trust/Credibility

Alan Marks Biography

Alan Marks is senior vice president of corporate communications for eBay Inc., and is responsible for leading communications strategy for all areas of the company, which includes business and consumer media relations, employee communications, executive positioning and issues and reputation management. Prior to joining eBay, Marks was at Nike Inc., Gap, Inc., and Avon Products. He began his career as a journalist.


INTERVIEWER: What would you say the status of chief corporate communications persons is in this environment today? Is it growing in importance? Is it diminishing?

MARKS: I think if you stop to think about companies you admire. Companies you respect, companies that you see doing innovative things, I think more often than not you would see the chief communications officer role increasing in strategic importance in those companies. Our profession is rapidly changing and rapidly evolving. So every company is structured a little differently and modeled a little differently. When I look across industries and across our competitive set and across the global business environment, companies that I see innovating and really driving effective change—both with their employees and with their broader group of stakeholders—typically in those companies, a chief communications officer role is increasing in strategic importance, not diminishing.

INTERVIEWER: What do you feel are the keys to building trust and credibility within an organization?

MARKS: Authenticity. And it’s something that the Arthur Page Society has been advocating. I think that’s essential; authenticity, transparency, what we talked about earlier with social media. Everybody’s got a communications platform today; I think there are no barriers anymore. There’s no internal-external. There are communication that crosses easily throughout a company and across borders and across geographies, across audiences. And so you’ve got to be authentic. You’ve got to come across as transparent and real and honest. Otherwise, somebody’s going to call you out on it. Somebody’s going to refute what you’re saying or disagree with what you’re saying, and today they’ve got a platform to do that and give themselves a voice to do that. So that authenticity piece is important, and for a lot of companies, that’s a significant change where the business environment has grown up, where it’s more of, “We control the message. We manage the message. We push out messages.” It’s a very different environment to say, “I’m participating in the conversation now about my business and I understand that many, many stakeholders now who are connected to my organization and my enterprise have the power to have a voice and build an audience around my business and what I care about. And so it’s a different dynamic to sit back and say, well how do I participate in that and listen to that and understand that versus; how do I manage a message and how do I push out a message to audiences?

INTERVIEWER: Are there any things that you’d like to talk about in terms of ethics in public communications we haven’t talked about?

MARKS: I was at the Edelman Trust Barometer at Davos [Switzerland], and it is certainly distressing to see how corporations are perceived and the lack of trust with government officials and CEOs that show up in the trust barometer every year. I think that if there is a critical issue facing our profession, it’s that broad issue of trust. How does the public perceive…where do they get their information? Who do they rely on? Who do they trust? How do they perceive corporations? How do they perceive CEOs? How do they perceive media? How do they perceive government officials? We play a critical role in all of that. And as communication professionals, how are we seen when we talk about something, when we represent our organizations? Which gets back to the importance of authenticity, and transparency, and engaging and listening and not just talking. I think those are some of the changes affecting the world, and affecting our profession. If you don’t have trust, you’re on a pretty shaky foundation, if you don’t have trust with an audience you’re trying to communicate with. And so I think how we think about that, and how we help shift perception of the things you trust and the sources of information you trust, is one of the critical challenges facing companies today, facing government today, and often facing media today. And certainly communications professionals and chief communication officers play a critical role in that.