An open letter…

Today’s guest post is by Peppercomm President Ted Birkhahn.

How-to-write-a-cover-letter Dear CEO,

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.

7 thoughts on “An open letter…

  1. Diana,

    Perhaps. One thing I think we can all agree on is that regardless of who knew what, everyone involved is out of touch with the reality of how the general public feels about the brand.

  2. I seriously doubt that the comms team was not involved. In fact quite the opposite. I imagine it was something that they suggested and in fairness the concept was good. Most Financial institutions are totally risk averse and any attempt at open communication comes up against a barrage of regulatory and compliance refuseniks. No bank has escaped unscathed…and here in the UK we have the unthinkable..The Reverend Flowers (the trusted Church), who headed up the Cooperative Bank (the trusted ethical bank with mutual values), who was found snorting crack cocaine. You couldn’t even dream that one up! Sadly what I think will happen is that social media will retrench into the high risk area and the banks and financial institutions will go into boring broadcast mode only which is safe but totally uninteresting and does nothing to enhance their reputation.

  3. You’re 100 percent right, Dmitriy. But, those efforts are embryonic at best. What bothers me most are the vainglorious features in PR Week and other leading trade journals suggesting we’ve earned a seat at the CEO’s table. We haven’t. And, our industry leaders need to stop drinking their own Kool-Aid.

  4. An astute analysis to say the least, Ted. But, CEOs overlook their PR counselors for a reason. Too many of us STILL can’t read balance sheet and don’t possess a rudimentary understanding of how the markets work. Our. Industry trade groups and media continue to kid themselves that PR has earned a seat at the table. All it takes is a JPMorganChase type fiasco to remind us we still have a long, long way to go.

  5. Great post! It’s a definite problem but, there are signs that the C-suite is at least moving in the right direction by involving the communications team more. Several leading business schools are now offering public relations courses to their MBA students as part of a national program with PRSA. Hopefully once these courses become a mandatory part of both the graduate and undergraduate curriculum we won’t have any more #AskJPM type scandals.

    • While this will help, what is likely to drive the most amount of change is the reality of doing business in a consumer-led economy. As brands lose control over how they communicate and build (or erode) relationships with consumers, I believe CEOs will be forced to recognize the essential role that communicators play. In fact, over the next 20 years, we will see more communicators moving becoming CEOs.

      • While this will help, what is likely to drive the most amount of change is the reality of doing business in a consumer-led economy. As brands lose control over how they build (or erode) relationships with consumers, I believe CEOs will be forced to recognize the essential role that communicators play. In fact, over the next 20 years, we will see more communicators becoming CEOs.