The use of communication for business
Communication function is very useful in many ways. First it is your main channel for sharing product, corporate, investor and internal information. Then in order to be efficient, you can have several channels, online and offline. As each targeted audience is different (journalists, investors, employees, prospects and customers) each message will need to be unique and differently addressed. With today’s surge of fake information, it is critical for anyone in charge of communication to double or triple check the source and the veracity of information. None of your targeted audience will appreciate receiving fake information. It could make the buzz go against you so when you prepare your documents, make sure everything has been verified.
Looking at communication where journalists are your targeted audience (product, corporate and financial information), it is essential to treat the journalists as if they were a customer. Be a businessperson and answer their requests fast, always be available, work with them on their paper/piece of video/post and give them the right information at the right time. Feed them with your language so they have concrete text to report. Call them to ask if they have enough information, check in on them regularly; show them you care and that you want their success. This is a win/win relationship. If they win, you will win in the end. You need to build a trusting commercial relationship. Later on you will be able to ask for favors and work with them on optimizing your relationship. The key points here are transparency and true information. I would like to give you an example where this situation was impossible to manage. In August 2006 until December of that same year, Sony found itself in a controversy over their Lithium batteries. I was in charge of communication for the whole of Europe and my job was to give information to the journalists regarding this issue. My source of information was Japan and we had every night at 3:00 am (CET) a conference call with Japan and the US. Because of contracts signed with our customers (the computer or mobile phone manufacturers), we could not announce all the issues at once. We had to announce each issue with a customer at a time. This was like death by a 1000 cuts. Journalists were getting very frustrated and we were too because we knew what was coming up but we were commercially not allowed to tell. The brands decided when they wanted to announce they were impacted. So we bowed our head and announced one by one until I decided to become forthcoming with my journalists. As soon as we knew of a brand coming out, I would call personally all the journalists I knew and would warn them that an announcement was pending. This allowed me to build a very strong relationship with all journalists involved and to this day to have them as personal friends. Why did it work? Because they realized that I was on the same page as them.
Other types of communication need to be handled differently. Anything that has to do with financial information (such as investors information) needs to be validated by 3 people: the head of communication, the CFO and the head of legal. This is very sensitive information and the company’s future is at risk with such information. It needs to be very accurate and cannot let people believe in a future that would not be correct. Targeted audiences for this are traders, investors, and financial journalists. This is not about marketing; this is not about increasing sales.
Product information is also different. The targeted audiences are specialized journalists, prospects and customers. People involved in this communication are the communication team as well as the product management team. The information related here would be accurate, commercially attractive and very much feature orientated. Here the information will be orientated towards marketing as communication in support of sales activity. This is an angle that a lot of companies that I help today forget: to them communication is corporate and cannot be linked to sales. I keep pushing that ROI is my major KPI (Key Performance Indicator) for any communication activity.
Finally internal or employee communication, in my opinion, needs to be managed by the head of HR and the head of communication together. The head of communication will help using the right words and the appropriate content, the head of HR will be able to manage the timing and targeted audience. The communication department will use all its internal channels to ensure full engagement of all employees. Is it in the right language? Are we using the right channels (TV, PC, Mobile…) and how can we measure the ROI and the impact on the activity? This last category is essential and I see many companies excluding this or leaving it to only HR which is not the best way as an HR executive does not know how to communicate at a company level.
As I mentioned above, you need to be efficient when you take over communication responsibility. In order to do that and once you have identified the targeted audiences; you need to work on the channels you will use.
Offline channels cover newspapers, TV coverage (news and magazines) and specialized magazines.
Online channels cover Social media (being very careful once again on the targeted audience as some platforms are more orientated towards young audience, others are more political, others are more for family…)
Specialized blogs and forums where you can increase your reach and your own SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Digital video (Youtube and others)
In conclusion, communication is a very powerful activity. It needs to be managed very carefully and be monitored. We see today with Brexit, the political situation in Russia, the US election and the French election that communication can change the face of a country. With the arrival of fake news, country leaders can do whatever they want. Beware though; the backlash will be very painful when people realize they have been fed with news to make them change their behavior.
As a communication executive, your job is to share the truth with your targeted audience. It is better to share information even when it is painful. Being transparent will allow you to control the situation all the time. You will also ensure that no one will come back at you in the future with information that was not shared. Thanks to digital channels, communication is also about speed of delivering information and speed of monitoring the various platforms. If you let an issue or fake information be broadcast on digital platforms, you will struggle heavily to recover.
I am available for any questions you might have or if you want to discuss this and debate.