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Strategic communications at a cross-road

 

Leidar’s reflections on the European Communication Summit 2017

We were privileged to be a Gold Partner of the European Communication Summit 2017, held on the 29th and 30th June in Brussels. It’s an event that brings together over 700 senior communicators from industry, agency and government backgrounds – a real meeting of minds of those at the top of the communications profession.

With such a wide range of participants present, it was a great opportunity to gauge the zeitgeist of the industry, and pinpoint what issues and topics are front of mind for communicators.

What’s on the agenda?

Two key themes kept recurring in our conversations. First was the (relatively) new role of companies and organisations as “news producers” and disseminators. The second was how to engage internal and external stakeholders effectively – and ensure that the organisation engages the stakeholders that matter.

Both of these themes share the same root – dramatic changes to communications as a discipline over the past two decades.Traditionally, the communications team of a company or organisation was tasked with disseminating information from the centre – press releases, internal memos, newsletters etc. The main external communication channel was the media, whom you had to get on side, or pay, to get your message out. Internal channels were static, and usually highly one-directional – information sent from the management / headquarters out to staff in the company. This sounds boring – and in fact corporate material traditionally was, more often than not, boring. It’s no coincidence that the term “corporate tone of voice” has become synonymous with “static, boring, and disengaging”.

Companies as content hubs

But advances in technology have changed this role. Comms teams are now less focused on channels, and more focused on content. Customer facing companies are more reactive to the public, interacting with them directly via social media, and instant chat functions. And even companies that aren’t public facing – eg. professional services or B2B manufacturing companies – care about their profile with the public and stakeholders, and engage externally to maintain and boost their brand. All sorts of companies therefore need to produce content that is channel-agnostic, visual, and engaging.

Internal comms is similarly different, and a lot more diverse. Companies encourage employees to engage in dialogue with management and colleagues, offering platforms and systems to help facilitate internal discussions. Engagement with staff is much more dynamic and regular, and occurs across more channels. Done right, this modern approach to internal comms can result in employee advocacy – one of the most effective and credible ways to reach external audiences.

Cutting through the noise

The opportunities of these changes are huge and obvious. However, they also present some challenges. The diversity of easy to use platforms means you are competing in a much busier field, and with everyone able to get their message out, there is a higher chance of your desired audience facing “content fatigue” – a problem put into context when you consider that more data will be created in 2017 alone than in all of human history before! It also becomes harder for the audience to discern quality amongst the plethora of available sources and messages.

Consolidating for impact

In this melee of information, audiences are more and more likely to turn to reputable brands they trust – for both information and products/services. Your organisation’s brand and reputation are going to become the key currency for ensuring that your voice is heard. While traditionally companies have managed brand and reputation separately, there is a greater need for consolidation of the functions. Executives and consultants have been talking about “breaking down silos” for years, and in comms that often means between communications and marketing disciplines. However, this still hasn’t happened effectively in many organisations.

But the time to actually do this is now… organisations operating as news producers have a great opportunity to engage with the right stakeholders, and big data creates a myriad of opportunities across, and between, marketing, communications and public affairs activities.

However, we need to carefully consider how this is implemented. It is not enough to focus on the traditional way of analysing the landscape and conducting opinion research – simply asking questions to get answers to a pre-conceived set of issues or problems. Instead, organisations need to focus on really listening – understanding customer and stakeholder ideas without approaching the process from a pre-conceived place about what they will, or should, find important.

So where is the cross-road?

Companies and organisations that embrace the new reality have the opportunity to drive the conversation and take closer control of both their brand and reputation – together. Others who decide to ignore it, and continue seeing brand as marketing and reputation as comms, may soon find themselves irrelevant, and muted by competitors.

 
Łukasz Bochenek

Managing Director / Deputy CEO, based in Geneva

Łukasz is Managing Director of International Strategy and Client Service. He is based in Geneva and leads an international team across Geneva, Brussels and London.

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