Don’t panic – it’s a serious question but, no, I haven’t strayed into the metaphysical philosophy aisle.
‘Why are we here’ or ‘why does the comms dept exist’ is a challenge that every team needs to address from time to time, ideally before someone else, usually from finance, asks the question. The world evolves; perceptions and priorities change and the answer that worked the last time we had the debate may not work as well today.
When I last participated in such a discussion, there were three of us and breakfast was being served.
He opened up with the suggestion that we were there ‘to protect the reputation of the business’. He then corrected himself – ‘to protect and enhance the reputation …’. She proposed that we were there ‘to tell stories’.
In part because I believe it to be true, and partly because the chill winds of economic uncertainty were swirling around our heads at gale force, I suggested that maybe we should be there to support, and to be seen to support, the business’ bottom line.
Surely we needed to support the sales team more? This means doing fewer corporate positioning pieces, fewer executive profiles and more and better product PR. We should focus on creating better customer communications to aid customer retention. Ultimately, we should be conscious about boosting the bottom line.
By the time we were done and the breakfast plates were cleared away, I didn’t think I’d won the debate. My way was just too hard to do, too difficult to prove and, to be honest, a little sordid for my high-minded colleagues. “That’s marketing’s remit,” was the considered view.
The comms dept is clearly better on the softer stuff like corporate positioning, raising awareness and other intangibles that can inflate an executive’s ego and are found on the P&L line called ‘goodwill’. We would stand by the column inches, regardless of the commercial impact those column inches generated.
Since then, that particular comms dept has shrunk to less than half the size it was, both in headcount and budget. In the end, the department made its tangible contribution to the bottom line.
In today’s difficult economic times, that’s the price to be paid by the comms dept that’s reluctant to be commercially accountable for what it takes.