Business is full of buzz words. Big data. Contextual marketing. Corporate synergy. Growth hacking. Hyperlocal. These words conjure up shades of a used car salesman.
The sad aspect of this is that most of these terms have real value for those looking to grow in the ever-changing business landscape. For example, big data truly is, and will continue to be, a tool that businesses will use to grasp and contextualize their clients and positioning in the marketplace. Hyperlocal advertising is an unbelievably effective way to tailor your marketing efforts by a specific area’s interest (think making your marketing materials change to suit the local hockey team’s colours).
However, these words get a bad rap from blog posts and articles that start with “5 tips to grow big with…” “How to increase your followers with…” and best of all “The secret tip to…”
Strategic communication is stereotyped as one of these words, but in this marketplace, it will have the biggest impact of all. Strategic communication’s definition can be boiled down to one question: “How do we as a business purposefully craft a message to the public that is consistent with our brand and our strategic goals?”
In the days of cellphones and social media, no business is safe from a bad PR move, but even more importantly, safe from a well-intentioned PR move that is perceived poorly. Think Pepsi’s “Global message of unity, peace and understanding” campaign. The intention was there but the execution was very poor.
We asked a graduate student in a communications program to explain the role of strategic communications within organizations.
Why is strategic communications important?
For a number of reasons. First, it prepares an organization to respond to and manage issues by having the company think really hard, well in advance of a crisis, about its organizational goals and values and let that guide its response to future challenges. This means your business is always scanning the environment, monitoring and analyzing issues that may affect it, so you are ready for any threats. Second, strategic communication builds relationships with stakeholders because part of what drives the process is your own values and concern for your reputation. You will seek ways to foster those relationships in the short, medium and long-term. Finally, strategic communications involves the entire organization. It’s not about issuing press releases. It’s thinking about who you are and what you represent, and embedding that in all communications – whether that’s internally with staff and shareholders or externally with the public, politicians or others.
How can poor strategic communication affect businesses?
You’ve heard the saying “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing?” That’s an organization with poor strategic communication. It reacts in the moment in knee-jerk fashion. Consider the United Airlines incident when it physically removed a passenger from a flight and social media blew up. With a stronger strategic communications plan, the airline would have analyzed all of the ‘what ifs’ around overbooked flights, social media, and the potential for public backlash. Advice from a communications specialist would probably have benefited the airline by pointing out the potential for reputational damage when asking security guards to physically remove a passenger. A well thought out communications strategy would have provided a guide for the organization at every step in the process
What can businesses do to encompass strategic communication with their public relations?
This should be flipped the other way around! Public relations is a component of the strategic communications plan. It is just one communication pathway for a company. That said, corporate communications should be driving the strategic communications plan. With input from senior leaders, managers, staff, shareholders, etc., communications professionals can offer a big-picture vision of potential threats and issues and offer guidance on how best to navigate them using the communications tools available.
With this in mind, it is evident that hiring the right senior leadership, including communications leads – those who can take a broad view of all of the company’s activities – is paramount to success. Data-driven leadership models like the Leadership Performance Index™ will become a necessity for organizations who would like to visualize their leaders. With self-evaluation tools, direct manager reports, and personal information that can be translated to direct action points, the LPI is helping organizations ensure their leaders are in the right strategic positions.
To learn how your organization can institute the Leadership Performance Index™, click here, or contact Hannah Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org.