5 questions to ask when taking the temperature of your corporate comms

A little self-assessment can do a world of good, especially when executive pressure to show results is building.

Analytics are a blessing for corporate communicators who have been trying for decades to accurately and reliably measure their value. These advances, however, also mean added pressure to perform as executives hold their marketing pros to new standards.

Meanwhile, content marketing and brand journalism are blurring the lines between marketing, communications and public relations, resulting in internal battles over limited corporate real estate.

With budget wars afoot and growing executive involvement in measuring marketing, it’s time to end corporate communications inertia. Where better to start than with a thorough self-assessment?

Try these questions to get a feel for where you are:

1. Why are we doing that?

Consider this old Jewish tale:

A young wife is preparing her first brisket for the Jewish New Year. Following her mother’s recipe, she lops off the ends of the meat and throws them away. Her husband asks, “Why do you cut off the ends?”

“That’s how my mother always did it,” she says.

The next week at lunch she asks her mother, “Why do you cut the ends off the brisket before you cook it?”

“That’s what my mother always did,” she replies with a shrug.

Unsatisfied, the woman calls her grandmother that night and asks the same question: “Why do you always cut the ends off of the brisket before cooking it?”

“So it will fit in the pan,” the grandmother replies. “It’s such a tiny old pan.”

Does that sound like your communications program?

If you can’t explain to yourself, your boss or your team why you are doing something that has been done forever, it’s likely a waste of resources.

2. What are we trying to achieve?

Chances are your professional goals have changed since 2005, and so have your organization’s. Perhaps, when it opened, leaders just wanted customers to know the brand’s name. However, 10 years (or 50 percent market share) later, is that still really a top priority?

It’s just as important to reassess your goals as it is to set them. Have a conversation with the executives to understand their priorities: Are they trying to grow brand loyalty or capture new customers? Is the fourth quarter all about hitting a specific revenue target? Is the company hiring? Recruitment is a commonly overlooked goal.

To be effective, you must know what you are trying to achieve, why you want to achieve it and what success looks like. If your department hasn’t asked itself that question in over a year, it’s time to revisit your strategy.

3. Who is our audience?

The news is no longer limited to the 24-hour cycle perpetuated by round-the-clock cable television networks. Today’s environment is an instant news cycle, in which content is generated faster than it can be consumed and can be accessed at any time in perpetuity with the swipe of a finger.

Bombarded consumers are making more meticulous choices about where to get their news, and they are largely choosing social media.

Busy professionals turn to their online social and professional networks for aggregated news that has already been vetted by their self-selected networks.

What this all means is that a brand no longer has to appear on the front page of The New York Times to get its message across. You might have just as much luck posting to your own microsite and then linking to it through your social media accounts.

Compile a broad list of trade and business publications that you believe your clients are reading, and look at their social properties. If they are active and have an engaged audience, they may be a valuable, untapped resource.

4. What is my brand?

In conducting your daily business, it’s sometimes important to offer your clients a full suite of services. They should see you as a one-stop-shop, the answer to all their problems.

In communications, however, that approach muddies your message.

Faced with an overwhelming amount of information, products, value propositions and providers, consumers are looking for information straight from the source.

In an economy of increasing specialization, don’t position your spokespeople as generalists. It looks noncommittal and, worse, vocationally superficial. A better approach is to develop a strategy that promotes your signature offering(s) through key messaging, media relations, speaking engagements and events.

Once consumers begin to associate your brand with that product, add your offerings to the communication plan to expand your customer bases support growth.

5 . Are your employees advocating for your brand?

Often, the best and most underused advocates for a brand are its employees.

Leadership hires and recruitment efforts, corporate social responsibility, new accounts and positive media stories engender company pride among employees. They want to be a part of something great, and when they are, they will tell their friends. Arm these would-be brand ambassadors with positive messages and information, and encourage them to share with their networks (and their Twitter followers).

A note of caution here: don’t use your employees. Empower them. Trust requires transparency. Employees who believe their company is disingenuous will quickly turn cynical. Be honest and balanced in your communications with employees. They are professionals and can take the bad news with the good.

Today’s communications professionals face new challenges as the lines between marketing, public relations and advertising blur, and executives expect returns on their investments.

Success will require tough, honest self-reflection. It may not be a pleasant exercise, but the result will be a more strategic and effective program, and a happier, more motivated team.

Stephanie Gray is a media relations manager for a top 50 global law firm. With nearly a decade of experience, she has advised clients in legal, financial, corporate and government services.

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