Today’s guest post is by Peppercomm President Ted Birkhahn.
It’s not easy being you in today’s economy. Regulatory demands are fierce. Investors are unforgiving. Attracting and retaining talent is a struggle. Competition comes in all shapes and sizes. And in the social economy, customers have seized control- dictating when, where and how they want to deal with your brand.
But, no need to fret. Help is here. You’ve resisted it over time but now you have no choice. It’s a brave new world and you need help navigating the turbulent and unforgiving waters of listening and understanding your audiences, and making sure your brand, products and services remain relevant. You come from the old school and you need new school support.
What’s this solution you’ve been resisting? Which group within your organization have you been keeping out of the Boardroom? Who are the people you’ve been treating as doers instead of thinkers. It’s your communications team.
Not sure how to change? Can’t figure out the best ways to start using your communications team more strategically? Here are a few suggestions:
1.) Buyer beware: Hire the right people. Having worked in the PR industry for 15+ years, I can assure you there’s a fair amount of mediocrity. But there are plenty of proven and aspiring professionals that I work with everyday who absolutely have the strategic chops to sit at your table and talk about the impact of business on communications and vice versa. Go find them and your business will never be the same.
2.) Chief Decision Officer: Over the years, any number of clients have come to me saying their CEO has made a business decision and it was now our job to communicate it. We are not miracle workers and we can’t play the role of the “cleaner” a la Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction. Instead, your chief communications officer should be present when you and your leadership team are making decisions about the future of the business. Their role at these meetings should be an simple one: Illustrate how audiences will perceive the change and the impact each decision will have on the company and it’s brand. Then decide if the decision is still worth pursuing.
3.) Filter everything though your comms team: In today’s 24×7 grind, mistakes are amplified and sometimes met with irreversible backlash. All communications- no matter how small and seemingly insignificant- should cross the desk of the CCO or their team. One of the most egregious examples of this involves J.P. Morgan’s #AskJPM Twitter chat debacle. I’m not privy to what happened inside the halls of JPM that led to the decision, but I’d bet the ranch that the comms team was left out of the decision process. Once the crisis began to unfold, they were probably called in to clean up the mess. Remember, the best crisis management strategy is to avoid the crisis altogether. If it doesn’t happen, it isn’t a crisis.
4.) Use your comms team as your chief listening agents: No one understands the wants and needs of your audiences- and how to communicate with them- better than your CCO and his/her teams. So why not tap them for more than communications. Get them involved in product & service innovation, customer service issues, risk management and the other disciplines that make up your business. They’ll provide a perspective that’s fresh and- wait for it- completely in line with the reality swirling around your brand and its stakeholders.
Globalization. The social web. Massive leaps in technology. Rapidly changing business models. Evolving customer expectations. These are just a few of the things keeping most CEOs awake at night. They are also issues that a smart, dynamic and sophisticated CCO can tackle for you. They won’t cure all your ills, but they just might make your life a bit easier and your business better. So, please, let your comms team into the room. Give them a seat at the table. Get them involved earlier in the decision-making process. And watch the world around you change.