First in a series.
As a communications consultant, I'm struck by how often senior executives are disappointed in their public relations functions' ability to meet even low expectations. Corporate leaders are frustrated that their communication teams are slow to react, do not take initiative, and produce less-that-desired results in terms of positive media coverage or marketing support. Internal communications deliver messages from on high, as instructed, but are not moving the needle, in any measurable way, toward educating employees on the corporate mission and strategy. And no wonder: PR is disconnected from corporate strategy and operates without much regard to supporting the objectives in the business plan.
The problem may be that corporate leaders are aiming far too low in deliverables expected from their communication function. Certainly, PR should be proactive, anticipating opportunities and executing quickly and sharply. And communications, internal and external, should closely coordinate with the business to focus on vital issues and areas of anticipated growth. The stakeholders to whom the communications team aims to reach should reflect the present and the future, not the past.
(If your PR capabilities do not measure up to the expectations outlined in the previous paragraph, congratulations. Your business can realize significant, tangible benefits quickly -- you just need to invest in a wholesale up-grading of communications. Start by examining its budget. Companies that view communications as overhead (as opposed to a vital contributor to the business) get what they pay for. And I bet you cut that meager investment further during the Great Recession, right?)
A winning company expects and demands competent, proactive communications from a PR team tirelessly working to tell the company's stories internally and externally, in sync with business strategies.
But that should just be the beginning. When a business leader says, "I want my communications team to be more strategic," he (she) generally wants the PR folks to plan ahead better, to take advantage of known coming events and maybe even to check in with corporate strategy once in a while to begin working on the promotion of products coming in the near future (or to put less emphasis on products soon to be phased out).
All well and good, but none of that begins to rise to the level of being "more strategic." A communications function that is truly strategic works actively to protect and enhance corporate reputation, and to advance employee engagement. ("Employee engagement" is a higher calling than "employee communication" -- employees not only knowledgable about the company's strategy but actively involved in its execution, continually providing feedback as well as creative ideas for fully realizing the strategy.)
It begins with knowing the difference between having a strategy and having a well-developed calendar. Communication strategy is connected to (and is, in fact, a vital input to) corporate strategy, not just a proactive means to convey the company's strategy to various audiences.
"Communication strategy" as such is a foreign concept at most companies, including large and well-respected ones. It represents a new frontier to be developed and exploited, just as total quality management (remember that?) helped companies that had been paying lip service to quality.
I will further develop the concept of "communication strategy" in coming days and weeks.