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.
That’s why the Jason Mendelsons of the world rant about PR spamming and why digital royalty like Robert Scoble chastise the mass pitching of bloggers.
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.
I enjoyed sharing the digital stage with Steve Farnsworth, Todd Defren and Paul Roberts. I encourage you to click on their names for their insights on this final topic.
And special thanks to Steve for coming up with the idea and making it happen.
Rule #1 is possibly more relevant than ever, especially in the social media age. Still surprises me how many communications professionals are quick to apply a blanket strategy without actually putting in the research to customize a communications plan.
I hear you.
Given the fragmentation in communication channels largely driven by social media, if you don’t have a good handle on your audience, you’re going to end up wasting time and probably missing a piece (or two) of the puzzle.
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Amen, brother Hoffman. Point number five touches on the most unrecognized pathology of global communications programs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that we can’t launch something, or even breathe a word about what a company does, because the “Managing Director” (aka Imperial Proconsul) doesn’t want to disturb the ignorance of their carefully tended local market. It’s even worse to breathe of word of things in as yet unexplored places that lack anyone eligible to collect a commission. Someday, companies will realize that stimulating demand in unexpected places is definitely one of the right problems to have, and easily solvable with an airline ticket and short hotel stay–and things become quite sustainable after that. Until then, companies will continue to confuse sales and marketing on a global scale.
Appreciate you taking the time to share this perspective.
I might have to borrow your phrase “the most unrecognized pathology of global communications programs” (with proper attribution of course).
It does often come down to separating the marketing function and sales function on global basis.
And today’s fiscal austerity hasn’t helped the situation.
I know companies with revenue exceeding $4B on an annual basis that don’t have regional PR leads in the geographies beyond the HQ.
Lou, it has been a pleasure ‘sharing the digital stage’ with you. I had been reading your blog prior to this experiment, but gained more appreciation for your insight as a result of sharing the same topic.
Every week when I read your post I said to myself…”yeah, that is what I meant to say” or “man, I wish I said that.”
From know thy audience – a line that should be used in every media training session – to casually quoting Animal House your post have been educational and entertaining.
And, yes, special thanks to Steve Farnsworth – couldn’t agree more.
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