Strategize before you improvise

By Nicholas Courant

As a corporate communication consultant it strikes me time and time again how some companies push for quick wins over a solid communications strategy. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love brainstorming on cool tactics! But even the most eye-catching and original actions are recipes for failure if they’re not backed up by a real communications strategy.

Now, I’m not going to pretend to know what goes on in the heads of the average CEO (a lot I would hope), but here are my two cents on where that preference for quick and tangible tactics comes from. For business leaders, bottom line is what matters at the end of the day. And that’s fine. Coming up with the right business strategy and implementing that strategy in such a way that it adds up to the bottom line should be top-of-mind. Customers happy, Investors happy… everybody happy! But where does communication fit into that mindset?

Basically I see two options and allow me to generalize a little for the sake of argument. On one end of the spectrum are those organisations that see corporate communications as a nice add-on to their business strategy. You know, the kind of companies with CEO’s asking for a “cool new logo on the front door” or “that Facebook thing that everybody’s talking about”. Here, communication is not seen as an inherent factor on the business success of the organisation. For those company execs; it’s the gimmick that they deal with when the strategy summit is over.

Fair enough, I understand that the impact and ROI of a communications strategy might not seem to give immediate results compared to let’s say a new supply chain planning strategy. But then again, can any organization afford to take only those factors into account that influence their bottom line in the short term? I’m pretty sure that companies that have been struck by a crisis affecting their reputation – BP anyone? – will tell you how devastating that approach can be.

Instead, and this is the second, more healthy option, corporate communications should be an integral part of a company’s overall strategy. Meaning that whoever is in charge of corporate communication should have a seat at the boardroom table, report directly to the CEO and be responsible for a clear corporate communication strategy supporting the business strategy.

Ranging from stakeholder mapping to key messaging and from brand identity to crisis preparedness, any organisation has to do its homework before thinking about cool tactics. It’s about having the right conversations with the right people at the right time. It’s about making choices based on business goals. It’s about using a consistent approach to corporate communication that will help feed your marketing funnel and protect your reputation when a crisis does hit you. It’s about so many essential components of your company’s strategy that you just can’t let leave to chance. At the end of the day, improvisation hardly ever adds to the bottom line, and isn’t that exactly what big companies care about?

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