Communications Crisis

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Before what some are now calling the “Great Recession,” organizations got caught creating communications that had a lot of sizzle but, frankly, not a lot of steak. ΒΆ Then, overnight, something happened. Actually, a lot of things happened. There was a mortgage crisis, a new administration, an ongoing war, a bank bailout, a car company collapse, a global financial meltdown and growing unemployment numbers. While most of the country was pinching pennies, there emerged a new demand for transparency and accountability to replace complacency. People started demanding that companies switch from strategy-spinning to strategy-making. This was validated recently when Doremus and Professor Paul Argenti of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth participated in a study called, “Communications in Crisis.” Participants in the research were senior executives from “best-in-class” companies. The findings, to put it lightly, were stunning, summed up nicely by IBM Corp. Senior VP Jon Iwata, who, in relation to a quote from Abraham Lincoln, captured the mood of the moment perfectly. Lincoln said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow.” To which Iwata added, “I'm afraid that too many people in public relations, marketing and advertising spend more time manipulating the shadow than tending to the health of the tree.” Tough times call for more tree-tending. As the “Communications in Crisis” study pointed out, the time has come for corporations to get back to a few basics. The communications strategy should reflect the corporate business plan and follow these core tenants:
  • Relevance: Channels and tactics should be relevant to specific audiences. In addition, a brand's positioning needs to be evaluated and the messaging that evolves from that should be germane to reaching stakeholders in the wake of the financial crisis and going forward.
  • Deployment: Make sure strategy and messaging are in sync and consistently deployed. Communicate the strategy and the message across functions within the organization and across external stakeholder groups as well.
  • Alignment: Make sure there is strategic alignment between business strategy and communications goals.
  • The “aha moment” for marketers is that communications today don't have to be in crisis. The solution is in getting back to basics and leveraging the fundamental principles that have worked in the past. Companies that are the first to align their communications with their business platforms and communicate their message with consistency and transparency, through appropriate channels, will be put in leadership positions relative to their peers. It's as simple as that, and it's that simple. Carl Anderson is CEO of Doremus. He can be reached at [email protected]
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