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Communications Don’t Have To Be In Crisis

By Carl Anderson, CEO, Doremus

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. The media with all of its new and exciting technical bells and whistles became as much the message as the message itself. Ad campaigns got created and were filtered out into the various media venues…a straightforward, simple process that appeared to work pretty well and garnered coverage on TV and Twitter, blogs and print and web sites and YouTube and you-name-it.

Then overnight something happened. Actually, a lot of things happened. There was a mortgage crisis, a new administration, an on-going war, a bank bailout, a car company collapse, a global financial meltdown and growing unemployment numbers that continue to rise as this is being written. Suddenly the Emperor was de-cloaked. The sizzle was gone along with the steak.

While most of the country was pinching pennies, there emerged a new societal demand among consumers 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 Jon Iwata, Senior VP of IBM, who, in relation to a quote from Lincoln, captured the mood of the moment perfectly. Lincoln said, “Character is the tree, reputation is the 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 has 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 tenets. They are:

Relevance: Channels and tactics should be relevant to specific audiences. In addition, the brand’s positioning needs to be evaluated and the messaging that evolves 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 who are first in aligning their communications with their business platforms and communicating their message with consistency and transparency, through appropriate channels, will be put in a leadership position relative to their peers.

It’s as simple as that, and it’s that simple.

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