Long-time SF IABC member and former Chapter President Ed Kamrin, SCMP, has done more than his share to make the chapter, his workplace and the world better. Ed is the Communications Manager of Corporate Citizenship for McKesson, a role that has evolved since he first joined the company in 2012.

In March, Ed attended the IABC Convergence Summit in Minneapolis where he served on a panel preceded by a keynote presentation on the findings from the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer. The global survey measures changing attitudes around trust in several key areas like business, government and the media. In the following interview, Ed talked about his takeaways from the Summit and the broader landscape of communications and corporate responsibility in a world where trust is both a precious commodity and a powerful force for good.

How did you end up in corporate responsibility?

I started my career working in education and knew early on that I didn’t want to make the choice between for-profit and giving back. I had the opportunity to work with a few companies on their philanthropy projects, and then I landed this full-time role at McKesson, where a big part of my job became corporate responsibility reporting. At the time, we were taking our report global, and big investors like State Street and BlackRock were asking companies for more information on their sustainability and corporate responsibility practices. It was an evolving process, so I learned on the job, using the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) as our reporting framework. I was a lucky guy to have ended up in the field.

How did the experience benefit you personally?

It’s made me a better communicator and deepened my commitment to giving back and finding purpose in my work. It’s also a position that requires a broad but also deep understanding of the business.

For example, I have to understand how McKesson’s pharma distribution network operates, how employee grievances get handled and how our products reach consumers, in order to speak to how we’re making those systems better and more sustainable. When you understand how the business operates, you also ask the right questions about the things you wouldn’t have thought about otherwise.

What role does communications play in corporate responsibility?

It takes a certain kind of tone to communicate our corporate goals and values — no one wants self-congratulatory. A well-crafted communication strikes the right tone and is clear and transparent. Corporate responsibility as a whole is still a bit esoteric and so what communicators can do is translate it into language everyone can understand and, more important, get behind. For example, when our Canadian distribution center has an overage (people and systems are not perfect) and they can’t sell non-clinical products that are perfectly usable, they’ve developed a program to donate those goods to local non-profits. We highlighted the story and we had many other facilities getting in touch to say they wanted to do the same thing.

So, I would say communications is about asking how you translate a story so it’s easy for people to get behind. I think it’s what we do as communicators; we ask the right questions, we think critically, we synthesize things. They’re the same skills that help you become a good corporate responsibility professional as well.

Tell us about the IABC Convergence Summit.

The Convergence Summit is now in its fourth year although this was my first time attending. It’s co-hosted with the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication and attracts communications professionals throughout the upper Midwest.

The Summit is a packed, one-day conference that covers internal and external communications, social media and public relations and brings academics together with practitioners to take the pulse of what’s happening in the field and the classroom. The “convergence” speaks to the idea that, in modern communications, internal, external, marketing and PR are all converging. Discussions like the kind that happens at Convergence show us we have to look at communications more holistically. How does it all come together?

How did you get involved in the speaking opportunity?

I’m originally from the Midwest and the connection reactivated after being SF chapter president and then leading the Pacific Plains region, which covers California to Illinois. Through that work, I built a deeper network, including the Minnesota chapter. One cool fact is that the Convergence Summit was put together by a group of past IABC chapter presidents in the spirit of creating the opportunity to “do what you want to see done.”

As to speaking, this was the year the stars aligned. I told a friend I was attending the conference, and she said she wanted to pull together a corporate responsibility panel, and it took off from there.

What were your key takeaways from the Summit?

Trust was a main topic and it was really interesting that the Edelman Trust Barometer found that people trust their employer the most — more than the government or the media. Which is likely related in part to the erosion of trust in other institutions and, I think, makes the case for corporate responsibility even stronger.

It humbled me that people put that trust in us, so those of us who are in corporate communications now need to focus on ways to continue earning that trust. Communicators have to ask ourselves, how am I communicating with the public? What am I bringing forward? Am I spotting the stories that bring the positive impact we’re working toward and bringing them to light? 

How do you think business communications has changed since you entered the field?

I think that really the two fields — communications and corporate responsibility — have evolved in parallel and now they’re crossing over more. Communications has been impacted enormously by social media and the engagement of everyone in society. Corporate responsibility has changed along with it. We live in a time when transparency and open communications are valued, and that’s a wonderful thing. Our responsibility to society ties into how we do our work every day and what’s expected of us as both employees and human beings. That’s where we’ve evolved.

Is there greater scrutiny from the public?

I definitely think so. But also today enlightened investors understand that reputation is part of what makes a company valuable. They don’t see it as at odds anymore with their bottom line. It’s no longer an either-or profits versus purpose discussion — now it has to be both. Salesforce is a great example. They pioneered the “1-1-1 Model” in 1999, donating 1% of their profit, products and employee time to their communities.

How do you think business communicators can help — what is their responsibility?

It’s unusual to have a communications role that’s 100% dedicated to corporate responsibility like mine is. But in general, I’d say they can advocate for transparency, facilitate healthy discussions and bring diversity to the profession, striving to make our workplaces reflective of society.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to a young communicator interested in corporate responsibility?

First be prepared to understand your business as well as you possibly can, including the people who make it run day-to-day. That’s how corporate responsibility comes to life. For example, it’s the people like the facilities manager in the warehouse who has the best ideas about how to make the facility more sustainable.

Corporate responsibility is about talking to people.  If you skip that step, you’ll never get those insights.

This year’s Earth Day celebration was a good example. Years ago, my mind would go to recycling in my office — which of course is important. But now, by building networks with people in my company, I know we use a lot of energy for distribution — so my mind goes to how do you optimize routes to save fuel? How does your warehouse network work so that those trucks use the most efficient routes? It’s no longer what’s right in front of me — it’s really digging in.

That’s where the real transformation happens. You learn everything you can. But you start by understanding how little you know.

Maggie Harryman is a freelance writer who specializes in long-form content, including case studies, white papers, website content and ebooks for the real estate, finance, technology, medical device and wine industries. She lives in Sonoma County and works throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.