This topic initially stumped me.
Specifically, what exactly is a “practice?”
I finally settled on this definition:
The act of repeatedly engaging in an activity for the purpose of improving or mastering it.
So what are the five things that today’s communication practitioners should be doing again and again with an aim to master?
1) Know Thy Audience
I decided to go biblical out of the gate.
How can you create a communications campaign if you don’t know what’s in the mind of the target audience(s)?
Yet, this often happens.
The thing is, information and even research typically exists with the product management team. We just need to proactively push for access.
Another type of information that never fails to enlighten are the field reports generated when someone from the HQ hits the road for a customer or partner visit. Unfortunately, these reports don’t naturally make their way to the communications function, so again, you’ve got to ask.
And there’s no rule that says you can’t do your own research. Even without the rigor of a proper market research firm, it can still deliver insights.
One quick example –
Every 12 months or so, we conduct interviews with the salespeople from a cross-section of consumer electronics retailers like Best Buy, Fry’s, etc. The last litmus test showed major changes in the perception of user-generated content, which triggered some fresh thinking in our programming.
2) Embrace the “One-to-one” Mantra
We still haven’t gotten this right.
Before going further, I appreciate the pressures to generate visible results.
For consultancies, I also recognize that tight budgets can mean the appropriate time might not be allocated to a given activity.
But unless you travel in the Microsoft/IBM/Intel pack where you can get away with “Major news … Do you prefer 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. on Thursday?,” tailor the dialog to the individual.
Between long-form writing, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn, personal blogs, etc., the information is there to achieve personal relevance.
3) Establish Content Bureaus
During the glory days of publishing, you weren’t a “media hombre” unless your news bureaus spanned Istanbul to Sao Paulo to Tokyo.
Playing off this concept, corporations should establish content bureaus.
Forget the adage “content is king.”
Compelling content is king.
By centralizing content in one place with a genuine strategy and tapping your strongest storytellers, you increase the likelihood of reaching the compelling threshold.
4) Start Experimenting with Bottom-up Communications
Consider management’s ever-increasing expectations of communications in spite of flat budgets and lower headcounts.
The trajectory of many comms efforts simply isn’t sustainable.
Fortunately, your cavalry is sitting down a few cubes from you or perhaps in your Shanghai outpost.
With the right training and definition of roles, your employee base can become the human version of the multiplier effect.
I touched on this a couple weeks ago highlighting “lose control” as one key to comms staying relevant.
As shared with Steve Farnsworth, if the Department of Defense can turn its “employees” loose on social media, one would think a CRM company could accept a product manager sharing perspectives with the outside world in 140-character chunks.
5) Change the Reporting Structure of Global Comms to Squeeze Out the Politics
This doesn’t qualify as a practice but as Otter whispered in the background during Bluto’s soliloquy at the frat house, “he’s on a roll” (Animal House circa 1978).
The standard reporting structures of today actually prevent a company from executing a cohesive communications program across the globe.
Here’s the crux.
Most companies hire a global comms head who sits at the HQ. As the company grows, it hires PR professionals to focus on the priority countries. Unless huge in size, they don’t invest in regional PR leaders.
As a result, these local PR folks end up reporting to the country managers who are really glorified sales managers focused on the quarterly numbers, not exactly a recipe for global communications alignment.
This creates a Bermuda Triangle of politics between HQ PR, country PR and the country manager.
Sure, the global PR head will periodically parachute in to get everyone on the same page. Unfortunately when he or she steps back on the plane, the situation reverts back to the status quo with the country manager reminding the locals that location is nine-tenths of the law.
If the country PR people reported into the global HQ function and the global PR function took ownership for supporting the needs of each country – isn’t that what a global PR head should do? – you’d have the best of both worlds: a global PR effort with everyone rowing in unison and politics significantly dialed down.
This concludes the 4/4/4 series.
I want give shout outs to the folks in the Agency who shared their perspective for this post: Susan Baldwin, Sarah Lafferty, Lydia Lau, Judy Radlinksy and Lori Shen.
And special thanks to Steve for coming up with the idea and making it happen.