It is time we call out the true value of a communicator* because the future of comms is really about breaking down silos, not creating them. To do that lies with connecting the dots to ensure we quickly see what the audience, stakeholder, consumer, shopper, customer need from you. And then make it happen.
For too long comms departments have broadened into too many different niche disciplines. Some work seamlessly together, some less so. Some are prioritised by the business, some are fighting for recognition. Some sit back and navel gaze wondering why the CEO, CFO, CMO doesn’t understand what they do. Yet, the ones that work get the business they are serving and are seen as critical drivers to protect and enhance the reputation of the company. They connect all the dots internally and externally - so why don’t we call it that - a Chief Communications Connector (CCC).
The value of a good communicator is not only understanding the story that you want to share - but understanding the story that your audience needs to hear. Someone who brings diverse teams together and is able to quickly get to an insight that reflects the audience not the speaker.
So, what would a CCC do to mean they are valued and intrinsic to the business?
Understand how your business makes money
Bring different perspectives
Who will be doing these roles in the future? They certainly don’t need to have come up through the ranks of traditional corporate comms (or whatever functional name is chosen) because as the Chief Communications Connector it is more about understanding than doing and recruitment should be based on how they deliver, how they connect, not simply what they have done.
For me, where I have worked with a CCC, or even been one is when you are a trusted advisor who can navigate complex businesses because you have diverse experience. You develop relationships with everyone and ensure stuff gets done. You are naturally curious and inquisitive. You question, and ask why. You listen and observe.
There is so much talk about purpose based marketing and the new ‘CSR’ at the moment as well as debates about why purpose isn’t truly reflected in end to end brand building. Maybe focus needs to be on who is really connecting the dots amongst the myriad of stakeholders and audiences inside and outside the organisation. To ensure what is being developed is truly fit for purpose.
One of the greatest impacts we had with #thinkhowyoudrink at Diageo, was understanding how and when the brands would promote a responsible drinking program. We created an ad that the audience could relate to. And, it worked, it resonated, it was bold. We connected the issue we needed to solve with the audience and the brand promoting it. It was less about budget (which was miniscule in comparison to other campaigns). But it proved the premise that connecting the dots from idea to creative to execution and all the teams along the way have a stake is what makes it work.
Or even looking at #ThisGirlCan - fantastic creative execution and stories that many women relate to. The creative, the insight and the issues spoke to many, it connected us. But, the creative is only one small part of the campaign. Success is ensuring the actual structures, classes, facilities and support are provided in a way that we know women want available to them if we are truly to settle the issue of getting more women active, more regularly. That means connecting the dots between the issue into the reality of what is provided - because you can’t have one part of the story without the other. The alternative is simply spin and key to success is connecting with the sector and the audience that we know so well.
Do you think this is reality? Do you know people already operating like this? What is holding people and teams back? Are we asking for permission and not forgiveness to connect teams up better?
Is part of the problem specialisation across disciplines, when in reality it is all communications? It is knowing your audience and knowing your business. So, let's get rid of all of the names and just get stuff done.
*The teams I am talking about can come under many different guises - from corporate affairs, corporate reputation to public affairs, public relations or communications and marketing. With many more variations as well. The functions can include some or all of these disciplines:
Corporate comms, PR/ consumer comms, internal comms, employee engagement, business partnering, public affairs, public policy, CSR, and a myriad of others before we get into the marketing mix as well. Some like to equate what they do to being a dark art, but in reality it is all comms.
# This blog was first published with F1 Search
Why can't my team just get on with it? Why can't I just get on with it? Why do I need to check every decision I make? Why does my team have to check with me about everything? I can't rock the boat. Everything takes so long here.
Any of this sound familiar? Sounds a bit like you are in a parent/child relationship with your teams.
Over the last couple of years I have been living a portfolio career. The adventure of the gig economy - or really, just going solo! I have been able try different ways of working and experience many different approaches to work - which will always come in use for whatever the future holds!
I have learnt how businesses operate - both large and small, new and established. Worked with people at various stages of their career - from well established, to changing or starting out. All have taught me something and it has been liberating being open to learning, as well as imparting a few wisdoms of my own!
An area that I have become a little evangelical about is how to engage your people to be adults at work. How to break from a parent/child relationship and take more individual responsibility. And for leaders to want, encourage and make this happen.
I was introduced to this thinking from the rather inspiring Carrie Bedingfield. I stumbled across her via twitter and some thought provoking posts for 50th Generation, a purpose based startup accelerator. Carrie is one of those people who wears lots of hats, is always learning, doing and creating. She coined a way of engaging people with Clean Comms.
The premise of Clean Comms is a way of communicating and being at work that is human, authentic, creative. To achieve it means shaking off the structures of parent/child into one where individuals take more responsibility for what is theirs - and the key - organisations empower and trust people for this to happen.
How we communicate at work and having a shift to adult to adult comms is a fundamental change to how we relate to each other. It requires ego to be put aside and honesty in all your dealings. The outcome is everyone having an individual responsibility for success at work - and knowing what is theirs to own, not simple compliance. Some tips to be more adult in how you communicate at work:
To put a lack of adult into a current example - I do wonder if the, now infamous, Pepsi ad was a result of 'group think'. Was anyone empowered to ask why, to question if this was the right approach. Or are many people now saying they thought it was wrong - but never said it because they didn't want to stand out or be shot down. Was the creative even challenged or did everyone just get into a cycle of agreement?
I'm sure we all have lots of examples where we felt something in our gut wasn't right, but didn't feel we could speak up. Being a grown up is knowing you can ask the question and have dialogue. Does your organisation celebrate and encourage dialogue?
If you want to chat more about this approach to engaging your people or to share war stories on the times you have found yourself being either parent or child - get in touch for a truly adult conversation!
**What about looking at a new way of doing meetings - because we all love endless meetings! Check out LoMo to discover more.**
We all know that we are in a state of uncertainty since the vote of 23 June and alongside the ongoing debate about how the vote came to pass and the consequences of it, there is also a need to get to what’s next.
And, what’s next must include a response to the anger and distrust that the result highlighted - not only about immigration (and let's not shy away, it was often the underlying reason for the Leave vote) - but also anger and distrust in business.
Overwhelmingly business supported a remain vote - but half of their people didn’t. Could employees not see or trust the potential impact on them or was the desire to control immigration more important?
At a recent, excellent, Hanson Search and K&L Gate briefing on Brexit for Business, Ameet Gill (Hanbury Strategy and former SPAD) gave us the reminder that there are about 20,000 laws now up for grabs and instead of business lobbying privately for our own best interests we need to campaign and publicly.
Business needs to bring the public with them on what is best for the country - because bullying or hoping for another vote will only backfire and accelerate distrust.
From this, I wanted to highlight two specific opportunities that many companies can do.
1. Accelerate that business is a force for good
We know that businesses are looking at what their exposure is. Scenario planning, financial modeling and assessing risk are high on the agenda. This is all very internally focused, but also means that it is the right time for businesses to really assess what kind of role they want and can play in society.
Instead of simply ‘lawyering up’ and focusing on your own commercial interests how can your business engage positively, influence the debate and establish new people and markets? In this environment is there an opportunity for business to reverse the declining levels of trust that the public have by being authentic and transparent in how you communicate?
2. Your people are the vehicle to make you trustworthy
Engagement is really about the ‘pub test’ - how your people speak about their work with friends or even strangers is the true ‘measure’ of engagement. So, what can you do to really empower your people to understand what makes your business tick and be able to speak about what you stand for.
There needs to be a fundamental change in how we communicate. Talk to your people like the adults they are. That means being authentic and transparent about what the risks and opportunities are for your business and their role in it.
I fundamentally believe that an open culture, based on adult to adult comms, is the best way for businesses to prove they are a force for good in society (obviously if they believe it too!). But, it does mean some pretty fundamental and bold changes to accelerate this.
Here are some examples of what a shift to adult to adult comms can look like:
Is your business ready to take that step? What do you think is holding business back? Can you imagine working somewhere that speaks to you like an adult, do you work for one already?
If you are interested in finding out more - email me Natasha@spinningred.com
In February I had the opportunity to attend the Food and Drink Federation Conference Staying on Shelf, discussing the upcoming obesity strategy, which I wrote about here.
While my first blog discussed the detail expected from the obesity strategy, also at the conference was the hugely interesting area of shopper insight and specifically the importance of understanding the motivations shoppers have in the food debate. As a communicator, understanding your audience and their motivations is paramount – and for me this is core to helping brands communicate their credentials in a way that shoppers and consumers need.
Giles Quick, from Kantar Worldpanel talked about the perfect storm for the ‘health juggernaut’ as consumer sentiment became more aware and vocal on the issue. That is a good thing. Awareness and dialogue about being health conscious is needed. The facts about obesity and deteriorating health are there – the responses, however is what needs to be challenged.
The central debate for both manufactures and retailers is around education and empowering vs choice editing. I’m certainly in the education camp – but know that this is a long behaviour change process, whereas choice editing is going for a quick fix that does little for long term awareness and healthy lifestyle choices.
Patrick Finlay from Bridgethorne gave us some key stats on who people view as singularly responsible for reducing sugar intake - 41% said the individual was. A further 29% said manufactures. What this says to me is there is a perfect opportunity for manufactures to work with individuals to help them make better choices – not for retailers or the government to edit the choices for them.
This is why I like the sentiment around what Mars has recently said about educating what is a daily vs occasional food. Of course, the devil will be in the detail, but this approach gives people the information to make an informed choice based on total lifestyle. It doesn’t demonise a product.
The other opportunities are how we talk about ‘healthy products’ and what criteria they have. Nom Noms World Food has an interesting story to tell here and for them normalising great food that is healthy is key. The credentials of their food are there, but the messaging is more about here is some really tasty, convenient food that is also healthy.
No one thinks tackling this is easy, and there are certainly no quick fixes – no matter what health campaigners argue their sugar tax will do. As Quick said, shopping baskets rarely change and simply trying to edit choices at point of purchase will most likely backfire in the medium to long-term than taking a strategic approach to inform, educate and ultimately empower.
What the industry needs to do is be ever more visible in what they are doing on reformulation, because let’s be honest here – choosing a reformulated product of something you like and want is easier than going completely out of category. You want a biscuit – you may choose a ‘healthier’ biscuit, you will rarely go for an apple!
Be up front about products that are more occasional or a treat and most important is getting under the skin of your shoppers, their mission and what messages they want to hear from you to make their lives easier – not talking at them or demonising products that they love.
Why am I writing on this?
I previously worked at Diageo and Coca-Cola Enterprises and I am passionate about working with brands to integrate social purpose into their brand strategy – core to food and drink brands is being visible participants in the health debate.
I attended the Food and Drink Federation conference, Staying On Shelf. Its aim was to give manufacturers insight into the rather fractious ‘sugar debate’.
FDF Director General Ian Wright, who in the interests of transparency is my former boss from Diageo, hit the nail on the head when introducing the day when he warned that so much of the debate is reminiscent of alcohol. From the actors, the scope and the demands as well as the role of the World Health Organisation. A lot can be learned from how the alcohol debate has developed and in particular how manufacturers have responded. Not that everything the alcohol industry has done has worked, but they know they have a legitimate seat at the table, and need to play their part in developing solutions to alcohol misuse. The problem you get is when some opponents try to take away the legitimacy of manufacturers to have a view, to be at the table. And when some manufactures take their seat for granted… Ultimately, doing nothing is not an option if you want to stay relevant.
Another link with alcohol is being clear who the people the obesity strategy is meant to be helping – who are the misusers? One area that is obvious is that you can’t break the inextricable link between childhood obesity and social deprivation. You can’t ignore the key fact that children generally see the same advertising, have the same availability of food and same information. Yet, why is it that childhood obesity is often a bigger issue for people from poorer backgrounds? Like alcohol, the assumption that you can instill broad brushed policy responses that doesn't take into account specific harm, within specific communities, is a problem.
It is in this context that the debate must be held. Not with blunt, universal measures that don’t tackle the core issues of food pricing, availability and the old chestnut of clearer, easier information that enables people to make the best choices for their family.
This will be first of a series of blogs that I will share from the conference. First up is a whistle stop tour of what we can expect from the upcoming obesity strategy (expected to be announced in summer 2016) and some thoughts on how it relates to alcohol.
There is not a lot new here, though what is clear is that when you take out some of the more emotive players you hopefully come up with a coherent strategy. Brands and manufacturers have every opportunity to be leaders here. They do need to think about the shopper and the end consumer in how they talk about their products. They need to think about what they stand for, what their role is in the community and how they can be better participants in the interests of the people who consume their products. Profit and the relevance of their brand will only be the better for it, but it does mean taking bold, decisive action.
More on that soon! You may be interested in a previous blog asking if regulation makes you a lazy or brilliant marketer.
In response to my recent blog - How do you measure an idea? Jason Cresswell has given his thoughts below. Jason is co-founder of Resonance, a tech startup applying the latest cognitive computing techniques to the analysis of reputation.
Reputation is often considered to be intangible and unmeasurable. I would argue, however, that it is highly complex instead, which just makes measuring it especially difficult rather than impossible.
Reputation is created out of the interaction of three components: businesses do things that have positive and negative impacts, which the media reports on, and which people read and react to (see diagram below).
Each component of this diagram, however, represents something complex: ‘businesses’ refers to hundreds of millions of companies all working together within multi-tier global supply chains; ‘news media’ refers to thousands of reports published on a daily basis in every language; and ‘people’ refers to the billions of people who read the news and share the opinions that they form. When you combine them all together, then they form an unimaginably complex web. The sum of this web is reputation.
The key to understanding reputation, however, is the news media. For example, Volkswagen’s reputation wasn’t damaged by the emission’s defeat devices that it had been fitting to its cars for years until it had been reported on. The public had no reason to doubt the company until they had credible information that told them their trust was misplaced.
So reputation can be measured through a thorough analysis of each and every media story, which can be measured across a number of scales, including: the credibility and reach of a source, the type and severity of allegation or praise, how many people read and share each story, and how often a story is repeated across multiple news channels over time.
This, however, is not an easy thing to do due to the volumes of data involved: this is Big Data at its biggest. At present the companies that are tackling this problem are either able to process large quantities of data, but can only measure the news against a few of the scales mentioned above; or they measure the news against more scales, but use teams of analysts to do this, meaning that only small amounts of data are processed. In either case the data is only partially analysed producing erroneous results.
Given this, it’s not surprising that people feel that reputation is intangible! Technology, however, is finally creating the solutions that we need to be able to process all of this data to high levels of granularity, and when this is done we will finally be able to measure reputation. Working in both tech and reputation myself, I am confident in saying that this solution is just around the corner. The most interesting question, for me, is what would people do with the data if they had it?
Jason Cresswell is founder of Resonance, a tech startup applying the latest cognitive computing techniques to the analysis of reputation. Previous to starting Resonance Jason worked in the senior management team of a leading Environmental, Social and Governance Risk (ESG) business intelligence provider in the finance sector.
Any time you get a group of PR and comms people talking about reputation the conversation rightly swings to measurement. We know reputation is important to the C-suite and we know that to really impact the boardroom we need to get measurement right. Since reputation is really what others think and say about you – the big question for me is how do you measure an idea?
Looking at PRCAs recent in-house benchmarking report, the section on strategy and evaluation have much of the usual measurement suspects. From those big, unrealistic numbers that measure reach to stakeholder surveys, which are generally a temperature check of a moment in time. Or the rather nebulous ‘advertising value equivalent’ so loved (ok loathed really) of the PR world. Do all of these really give you an accurate picture of what others think and say about you on an ongoing basis, or are they the best we can do at the moment?
With great strides in reputation management and technology, how will technology help measure sentiment and the semantics of an idea against your stated organisational objectives – which is really what reputation boils down to, isn't it? That people (or more specifically your stakeholders) think and say about you, what you think and say about yourself?
It will be interesting to see who comes in and solves the issue of reputation measurement and how. We are seeing more people from an organisational risk background stepping in offering automated solutions tracking that something is being said – the next step is measuring what is being said and scoring it so you can put an accurate number on reputation - and ensuring it is adopted widely so we don't get into the inability to compare like vs like.
Ultimately, measuring reputation determines are your messages landing, being repeated and being trusted. It is simply the idea of who you are that needs to be measured.
Various interest groups regularly shout loudly about needing to protect society from evil corporations who only have profit as their purpose. So, to protect us innocents we must stop all advertising and regulate, regulate, regulate. (And tax – but that chestnut is for another time.)
So, what does that do to marketing? One thing I often wondered is if regulations stifled, or enhanced creativity. Made you a lazy, or a brilliant marketer. I have to hedge. A bit of both…
Lazy by blaming the regulations for not being able to do something, for looking at the regulations as black and white – when in reality, they are often variations of grey. For not taking risks or being bold – for not questioning. Mostly though, for simply not having a view, not realising the role your brand plays in society and to stand for something.
So, what are the opportunities to do truly brilliant work? How can you cut through the chatter when you are in an industry that is monitored so closely, often by people who simply do not believe you have the right to market your products?
The opportunity for brilliance can come from the growing discussion about purpose based marketing. Taking your brand purpose back to basics and articulate what kind of society you want to be a part of. What do you stand for and what is the role your brand has in society.
We know that year on year trust is going down for brands and advertising. We are in this very interesting state of people wanting to block advertising, but also wanting to converse with brands. Hating advertising, but hating having to pay for digital services more. So, the debate about brilliant content continues..
Marketers from all industries can learn a lot from how alcohol is marketed and for alcohol marketers - a reminder to go back to understanding what the regulations were put in place to do – reduce the harm from drinking. Reduce young people drinking and people drinking to excess.
Lazy marketing is getting caught up in the detail of the regulations. That is what the anti-alcohol / anti-marketing lobby want you to do. Brilliance will be remembering your role in society and having a voice that you support what the regulations are trying to achieve and to play your part.