FEWER THINGS, BETTER?

To run efficiently, a car engine needs up to 10,000 gallons of clean air for every gallon of fuel it consumes.  The vehicle’s air filter, therefore, performs a critical task, removing contaminants before they dance with the oil and argue with the engine.  If you neglect it, the filter will become congested with dust and pollens, causing a sort of auto-constipation.  The engine’s performance will diminish and fuel consumption will increase. Ultimately, the engine will wave a white flag and you’ll find yourself phoning the recovery service, or a taxi.

An awful lot of excellent content enjoys less consideration that it merits

Communicators have always spent more time and energy creating content than distributing it.  Distribution is often left to the office junior. This imbalance between creation and distribution has widened with the birth of digital distribution channels and platforms, which semi-automate the task.  During 2011, I asked my team to analyse the time they spent creating and distributing content.  For every hour spent creating, they invested just four minutes ensuring it reached those it was intended for.

The content conundrum

Content is little more than cost if the audiences it’s designed to inform, educate or influence don’t or can’t engage with it.  This challenge is becoming more common with the seemingly relentless growth of social media – either because people can’t find it or because they’re too distracted and overwhelmed by the ‘noise’ that pollutes their information atmospheres.

The tsunami of content on digital channels means people are becoming headline scanners rather than content consumers.  An awful lot of excellent content enjoys less consideration that it merits because viral videos, pictures of cats or lists are hogging and clogging the airwaves.

Like a car engine, content needs air (what Margaret Thatcher called ‘the oxygen of publicity’) but rising noise levels are denying it the space to breathe. In response, many businesses resort to shouting more loudly, more often and in more places in an attempt to be heard. What they’re doing is adding to the din.  We need better social noise filters and better strategies if we want our messages to be seen, heard and acted upon.

Maybe it’s time we focused on creating fewer pieces of higher quality content and more time managing the distribution channels that carry it to it’s target audience.  Reducing the noise levels will give our messages more air and a better opportunity to do their job.

We need to do fewer things, better.  Maybe we should all start by scheduling regular content MOTs in our editorial calendars.

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THE ART OF SELF DECEPTION

If you aim for nothing, the chances are that that’s what you’ll hit.

I’ve just read the latest ‘Business Panel Research’ report from Richmond Events, the company that organises directors forums that bring ‘sellers’ and ‘buyers’ together to do business aboard luxury ships at sea.  The ‘at sea’ bit is clever because there’s no way for the buyers to escape the sellers, who are paying for the cruise.  The topic under discussion by the panel of business executives this time was ‘Corporate Reputation’.

Do 61% of companies really not monitor their reputations?

The research tells us that six in ten companies don’t measure (or don’t know if anyone measures) the state of their corporate reputations.  If true, I wonder how comms departments set their strategic objectives at the start of the year and justify their pay and rations at the end. I’ve always found it a challenge trying to solve a non-defined problem.

I’m hesitant about attaching too much importance to the findings because only 16 per cent of the respondents are marketing or communications directors. Almost a third (27%) of the respondents are IT directors.  Now, call me cynical, but I’m unconvinced that IT directors (or catering, finance or logistics directors for that matter) pay enough attention to corporate reputation research.  The case for the prosecution would highlight that fact that most didn’t think their comms or marketing departments were responsible for measuring corporate reputation, m’lud.

The good news from the research is that 84 per cent of the executives surveyed believe their employer’s reputations are ‘excellent’ or ‘good’. Quite what the basis for their confidence is with limited measurement going on is beyond me.  The good news doesn’t stop there: 61 per cent believe their corporate reputations have improved over the last three years.

Is the panel practicing the art of self-deception?  The Edelman Trust Barometer, a comprehensive annual survey into corporate reputation that’s been running for a decade, found that trust in business, government and non-governmental organisations suffered a significant decline between 2011 and 2012.  That drop came hot of the heels of another significant decline in corporate reputations in the UK and the US between 2010 and 2011.  The dark economic outlook is playing havoc with corporate reputations.

What gives the Edelman survey authenticity is that it seeks the views of people like customers, rather than company executives.  The comparison with the Richmond report reminds me of the old adage that when a man tells you he’s good in bed, that’s advertising; but when his ex-girlfriend confirms it, it’s public relations.

If the majority of companies genuinely aren’t assessing the key components that make up their corporate reputations, depending instead on gut feel, I think a big problem is being created for the future.   If true, maybe it’s budgetary pressures that’s at fault, but corporate reputations are more fragile today than at any time over the last two decades.

Stakeholder’s trust in businesses has been slammed into reverse since the global economy got a sick note from the doctor. The growth of social media channels is making the challenge more difficult by lowering the bar on what constitutes a threat to a business’ reputation (and a CEO’s tenure), just as much as the opportunity that social media is creating to enhance it.

Many corporate reputations need significant rebuilding after four years of dark clouds, cost reduction, job cuts, price rises and whatever the collective noun for ‘financial scandals’ is.

When it comes to managing your corporate reputation, facts always beat opinion.  Planning for success without factual data is self-delusion.

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LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT

My friend, an account director at a provincial advertising and public relations agency, wasn’t happy.  The sun was shining, he’d not long returned from holiday and had no client meetings that day.  So I asked what could possibly be ailing him.  It turned out his proposal to introduce a social media training programme, designed to develop the agency’s social media capability, had been rejected by his board while he was drinking beer and playing golf in Alicante.  His board suggested he put together an alternative proposal to recruit a social media specialist.  He’d need to accept an additional revenue target to justify the headcount investment.

Training – essential for 21st century communicators

“My clients want social media integrated into their end-to-end marketing communications programmes,” he said. “If we can’t offer a fully integrated service, someone else will and that means raising everyone’s digital abilities across the agency, not just one person.  It’s fine to have, say, a specialist graphic designer, but social media is a skill we all need.  I think the board is socially blind.”

In truth, he wasn’t sure whether the rejection was a reluctance to invest in training during a difficult economy or if his board simply didn’t see the long-term value or necessity in developing the agency’s core digital capability.

With little else to offer him, I told him a tale.

During a board meeting, the CFO turned to the CEO when the topic of skills development budgets came up for review. “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?” asked the CFO.

“What happens if we don’t develop our people and they stay with us?” the CEO replied.

That conversation may have taken place or it might just be a good yarn, but my friend thought it a strong enough basis for him to go back and re-argue his case.

Training budgets are always among the first to be culled when the economy turns ugly. Training and skills development budgets have been trimmed significantly in most organisations in recent years, yet I can’t remember a time in my career in communications when the need to adopt and develop new skills has been greater than it is now.

I support the view that integrating social media and digital communications with our more traditional skills is a core requirement for any 21st century communicator.  We’ve gone beyond the point where it can be left to specialists hidden away in the office next door.

It’s arguably easier to under invest in training for in-house teams for a period if you have an agency that keeps its people skills in good working order. It’s more difficult in an agency when the cost of training and development has already been factored into the fees that are charged to the client.

Businesses are looking for leadership, direction and clarity on how to embed and take advantage of social media and digital technologies for reputation management and marketing strategies today.

The comms department and its PR agencies are well placed to provide that leadership, but only if the skills in the team have been well maintained.

 

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