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20 steps to ensure a successful business communication

by Lee Hopkins

Over at the IABC Employee Communications Commons, Ron Shewchuk stirred a hornets nest of conversation up when he asked whether Internal Comms should report to HR or a Corporate Comms flavinoid comprising PR and Marketing folks.

Upon reflection, here’s a radical proposal:

Bring PR and Marketing into one department, alongside and overseen by a CCO — a Chief Communications Officer.

Currently it is often the PR and Marketing heads who have a privileged seat at the boardroom table; Comms people languish in the hinterlands of middle and lower management because Comms people are notoriously bad at communicating their value to the powers that be.

Shel Holtz once quoted an old mentor of his, who reflected that the reason Communicators don’t lunch with the CEO is because CEOs aren’t interested in the clever use of white space or which font type is the best for a particular project. Whilst PR and Marketing folk are brought up to speak in the language of numbers, metrics and other CEO/CFO-friendly banter, Comms people get sidetracked into becoming tacticians rather than strategists. Get a label as a tactician and you’ll never get a key to the executive washroom.

But, I argue, without the knowledge of ‘how’ to communicate effectively any message designed by PR and Marketing folk is going to underachieve its potential.

Now, I know that Marketers see the whole company as one big marketing tool; I studied Marketing and I know that more than one lecturer I had and more than one author I read thought that the whole company should be subsumed under the rubric of Marketing, that the CMO should be the final decision maker, not the CEO.

But I would argue that it should be the CCO who should be ‘running the show’, in co-operation with colleagues in Marketing, PR, Finance, R&D and Technology/Operations. And, to be honest, Comms folk do work really well in co-operation. Whether its our built-in humility (built from years of being the ‘football’ of the more vociferous PR and Marketing departments), or whether it’s just the desire to get the job done well, most Comms folk I know work far more hours than they should to make sure that what goes out the door or onto the intranet works as hard as it can to meet the business objective.

PR folks worth their pay are really good at what they do; Marketing people worth their pay are really good at what they do. But what everyone fails to understand is that without solid communication tacticians and specialists, their formidable work can be worth about as much as yesterday’s newspaper if they fail to get communication essentials right. Bad communication leads to:

So, what are those essentials, you ask?

Come on! Do you really expect me to tell you? I have a turf to protect…

Okay. But I’ll only say this once, as I have teenage mouths to clothe and feed, two dogs, two cats, a wife, a petrol-hungry car, an expensive broadband connection, insurance, school fees, school books…

  1. Determine what your required business outcome is — what are you wanting to achieve in ‘number’ terms? How will you know your communication is ‘successful’?

  2. Determine who your audience/market is. Are you sure? This is where your Marketing colleagues are invaluable.

  3. Know your audience. Really know your audience.

  4. Get to understand their culture — you probably have no idea how important a role ‘culture’ plays in how your material is accessed, consumed and processed, do you? You need to skill up, friend.

  5. Determine (perhaps using the ‘SWAG’ methodology — Scientific Wild Assed Guess) what ‘story’ you want to use that will appeal most to them.

  6. Never forget that our brains are wired for stories — telling stories is the preferred way of getting any message across. Stories include: plots, characters, action, conflict, character development and change, resolution. But the principle element is conflict. Let your audience see and feel their conflict, then give them the pill to cure their headache.

  7. Talk to them in their language.

  8. Use their preferred communication channel.

  9. Have a member or two of their peers ‘vet’ your material for authenticity, credibility and positive distinctiveness.

  10. Be prepared to meet and talk face-to-face with those peers. Explain your concept or position to an eight year old member of their group. If an eight year old can understand and ‘get’ it, chances are good the rest of your market will too. And unless you are selling post-graduate technology, expect the audience to prefer that you keep it simple, with simple words and ideas that are rapidly understood.

  11. Be prepared with back-up, contingency material in case your material falls flat and fails, for whatever reasons. Have at least a ‘Plan B’, if not a ‘Plan C’.

  12. Cost it out. Fully. Add 15% contingency. Double the time you think it will take to get everything together.

  13. Double the time again. Now you are getting closer to what it will actually take to get the entire campaign together and see the true results.

  14. Determine if the cost (time, materials, risk, opportunity cost) is worth the reward.

  15. If it is, go for it.

  16. Pray. Hard. Then let it go. Get on with doing something else.

  17. Be around for the results and the feedback and the customer enquiries and the flak. It will help you understand your market even more. The more you know about them, the better you will be at communicating to them next time.

  18. Keep smiling — it’s all a game and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Sometimes customers love you and sometimes they hate you. Same with your bosses. Most of the time you’ll only know about a third of the reasons why. The most important part is to still be in the ring for round two.

  19. Recognise that smiling is hard when they hate you. That’s why God invented prayer, alcohol, friends, pets, puppies, old people, beautiful scenery, music, books, art, ‘House’, bicycles, fresh air, sunshine, full moons, tea, Pina Coladas and walks in the rain.

  20. The most important part is to still be in the ring for round two, which is when you start at point 1 again…




Reports I have written:

Measuring the impact and ROI of social media
Measuring the impact and ROI of social media - for Ark Group
Making social media work for your business
Making Social Media work for your business - for Ark Group
Social Media: the new business communication landscape
Social Media: The New Business Communication Landscape - for Ark Group
How to get started with podcasting in your organisation
How to get started with podcasting in your organisation - for Melcrum Publishing
How to use social media to solve critical internal communication issues
Contributing author to How to use social media to solve critical internal communication issues - for Melcrum Publishing

How to use social media to engage employees
Contributing author to How to use social media to engage employees - for Melcrum Publishing

Contributing author to How to communicate with hard-to-reach employees - for Melcrum Publishing



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