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Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Corporate Communications is quickly transitioning from Programming to Precision 

Corporate Communications plays a vital role in influencing and maintaining organizational health, setting priorities, establishing a clear direction for strategy execution, managing reputational efficacy, impacting decision-making, telling the business story, and directing competitive positioning.

Under this construct, Corporate Communications’ efforts drive demand for products and services, attract and retain talent, and build comprehension around purpose, mission, and values, thereby enhancing financial valuation, softening barriers to market entry, building critical relationship capital, easing governmental and NGO relations, and nurturing and growing stakeholder trust. Consequently, the Corporate Communications function spans an entire organization while simultaneously being tasked with bridging various agendas, priorities, and egos between and among other functions. This can be a daunting task for any Corporate Communications team, whether housed in a large, medium or small organization.

And now COVID-19 and the current racial unrest occurring worldwide are changing the purpose and effectiveness of Corporate Communications. Social awareness is high, cultural nuance is more acute, competition is intense, consolidation continues, media has become fragmented, customer skepticism is rising, and information dissemination is happening faster than ever. Against this backdrop, an individual’s belief in a company or institution is likely to decline. A corporation’s ability to present a sustainable, meaningful and authentic corporate reputation to consumers, customers, employees, shareholders, and other key stakeholders is critical. In the fiercely competitive global marketplace, marketing products, services, or consumer-facing brands alone is insufficient. Stakeholders, particularly customers and employees, want and need to know about the company behind the brand, including how it connects to the greater whole.

Organizations are migrating their Corporate Communications function from a programming mindset to a precision focus on building stronger relationships with individual groups and positioning messages to cater to their specific needs and/or interests. This is a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the use of analytics to assess the situation as a means to address stakeholder concerns and needs better. One way to increase involvement with stakeholders is to utilize the plethora of data tools and platforms available today to unearth insights and translate them into supportive actions, decisions, attitudes, behaviors, and positive word of mouth. 

For example, employees want to work for companies that “promote trust,” “empower,” and “inspire pride.” Given that, Corporate Communications should discern information, including contextual needs, for employees to understand and perform at a level necessary for success. From a customer standpoint, corporate relevance is critical to believing in and interacting with the company, products, and services at a brand or business level in a manner that makes sense to that customer. It signifies that the company behind the brand is doing the right thing from an ethical, moral, and operating standpoint. Given the social nature of business, communication should be tailored to reach individuals, not masses.

 Critical Path for Corporate Communications – Uncovering the Machinations of Stakeholder Behavior, Preference

Over the last several months, W2O has uncovered a number of important and consistent themes regarding how the Corporate Communications function can best optimize its efforts to deliver stronger ROI to its organization as we enter the next phase of the pandemic.

The major truth to better aligning Corporate Communications with company performance lies in ensuring that this function is well-defined internally, specifically as it relates to realizing that its mission has organizational connectors.

All organizations should constantly strive to make Corporate Communications a fully realized and integrated function. This can be difficult to achieve as it demands relatively universal organizational support. The hallmark of a successful Corporate Communications function is the team’s transition from simply occupying a “serving” role to that of “leading.”

This entails having a say in wider organizational decision-making and the clout to dictate strategy. To accomplish this, Corporate Communications must work to become a proactive catalyst, assert its own priorities, and leverage new technologies (such as analytics) to inform decisions. When Corporate Communications embraces these roles, it is more likely to result in substantial ROI, a more engaged workforce, and a leaner and more dynamic function. With this approach, Corporate Communications must have a deep understanding of employee and leadership opinion, brand narrative, current strategy, and a vision for the future. The result is a de-emphasis on programming and outbound activity and a concentrated focus on information gathering and insight to direct relationship-building.                                                        

What Are You Chasing? Undoing Programs for Stronger Connections 

For organizational communications professionals, the answer to “what are you chasing?” is a critical element in securing a viable solution to myriad workforce realities. The subtle but deadly outcome for not determining the specific goal or state you are aiming to accomplish is chasing symptoms that give the illusion of achievement through activity. 

Following are some of the ways Corporate Communications can transition its purpose and effectiveness to reflect the new reality: 

  • Start with Strategy

 If an organization’s Corporate Communications strategy and function are not directed toward the business strategy, then it is not of any value – period.

  • Find the White Space

An important area to explore via analytics is where the organization has the best chance to succeed. The strategy and tactics developed must elicit specific outcomes, or your approach needs to be rethought. 

  • Uncover the Nuance

Find out what’s behind stakeholder perceptions, concerns, interests, actions. Determine if there is an impetus for certain behaviors.

  • Precision is Realism

Precision is at the heart of addressing the ultimate goal or cause of your effort. Analytics now affords the opportunity to focus, clearly comprehending the priority at hand and establishing a reality check.

  • People (Behavior), Process, Perception

Bottom line: what you are chasing tends to fall in one of these three areas. Either you’re trying to change behavior (purchase a product, gain a new skill), improve a process (streamline customer service), or perception (reputation, brand).

In the end, “What are you chasing?” is about ensuring that the means lead you to the end result.

So, before you finalize your next program, ask yourself exactly what it is you’re chasing….you may be surprised!

The new Corporate Communications function consists of three levels:

  1. Insights on employee, customer and influencer behavior (in addition to media)
  2. Comprehension of how brands, products, policies, and leaders are being discussed and shaped
  3. Connection with story drivers inside the company to convey holistic solutions and a clear narrative

In this regard, the Chief Communications Officer’s value is wrapped around a directional view of the organization as opposed to a current state perspective reinforced by tactical activities. The implication is that Corporate Communications is evolving to address the new realities of the organization’s business, reputation management, marketing, and communications in order to be an accepted and trusted advisor and resource. To get there, you must consider several factors:

  • Environment: Comprehending the competitive and customer environment you are operating in
  • Communities and Stakeholders: Company shareholders, customers, community and employees are adjusting to the “new normal,” needing more real-time, high-touch communications
  • Organization: Respecting the management model and organizational structure
  • Positioning: What are your market positioning and communications challenges? What is your trajectory for growth/loss?
  • Operations: Balancing roles that have changed and those that have not
  • Rapid Change: Ongoing change in the market forces the need for new communications practices and procedures, highlighting areas for continuous improvement

COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in myriad ways. But for many professionals and organizations, the pandemic is a time to rethink, recalibrate, and relearn what it takes to provide value in a shifting world. Taking advantage of analytics and data to discern insight and address new expectations is the pathway to a new and better future.                   

In this regard, precision is the new programming. 

 Gary


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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Regardless of circumstance, change in all forms takes time but the results are game-changing….so why not continue? 

 The numbers are sobering. Over 70% of change efforts within organizations fail. The reasons are many. But recently, a troubling number of change or transformation initiatives that have gained momentum or traction among employees have stopped. Citing the COVID-19 pandemic and racial tensions enveloping society to organizational exhaustion, leaders have pulled the plug, so to speak, on change efforts. They have resorted to business as usual,  leaving people, process, and purpose in a state of uncertainty.

The non-stop shifts that occur in the external world continually challenge businesses, posing multiple threats and opportunities, often without warning. The imperatives that result impose a sense of urgency internally for leaders who must accommodate and address them in a comprehensive way. We know the importance of new strategies in driving organizations – meaning people – toward the future as well as the sobering reality of how few do it right. Corporate change today and the strategy that underpins it cannot be as dry as dust or it will be a good prescription for insomnia. In order for a change strategy to be effective and executed successfully, the people within the organization must grasp it and be able to digest its components in a manner that shapes their roles and responsibilities.

In other words, employees must be able to draw a direct line of sight between themselves and the future that the strategy envisions. They must be able to see clearly how their actions can help assure the successful implementation of the strategy to drive the company forward. But why would leaders stop such efforts when they are seeing progress or even achievement? How do we communicate corporate change in such a compelling way that both leaders and employees are hesitant to end such efforts? We are finding that the answer to this frustrating question lies in two areas. First, change or transformation takes incredible energy and engagement throughout the enterprise. This means commitment must be rock solid at the highest levels of the company. Second, companies believe that people don’t want to change, and if you push them too much, the business will break. Let’s start with the latter point. Employees change if the rationale, approach, process, end state and purpose make sense. However, they often express change exhaustion because so many transformation efforts are the opposite.

From a communications standpoint, animating the change strategy is critical. This means making it memorable through meaningful and appropriate anecdotes and metaphors that help personalize, illuminate and bring it to life. This makes it “stick” in the memory, linking the strategy to the hearts and minds of individual employees. Put simply, making the strategy stick means putting people first, seeing the implicit change through their eyes. It means that communicating corporate strategy is not about PowerPoint decks, colorful posters, cute themes, e-newsletters, blog posts or highly scripted management meetings.

Change During COVID-19 and Societal Tensions over Race 

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely upended our lives. As a result, leaders have had to balance the tension between and among employees, customers, patients, government and suppliers. (See W2O Relevance Quotient COVID-19 Report #4). Stopping or pausing transformation efforts during such a time would appear prudent. But what better time to continue a change effort than when people are already in the midst of rethinking their methods, behaviors, attitudes, and actions?

Among the insights we’ve learned thus far is that working virtually has broken down silos, encouraged more collaboration, increased productivity in some areas, and forged a tighter belief network internally. With little effort, people are pulling together to seek information and solutions in order to accelerate a return to some normalcy. So why impede such growth? The changes harnessed through this difficult time can give rise to a new operating or business model – one that focuses on societal purpose – and better manage complexity. On a macro scale, organizations can better communicate about their strategy and direction to guide managers and employees alike in how to run their businesses, how to invest in their businesses, what is possible, and what people need to focus on to drive it toward that ultimate goal. As Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has said, this is a time of rethinking and learning. Everybody does it differently and approaches it in ways unique to their own personal style. Conviction, energy, passion, consistency and alignment are more important than the “right” message. The keys are to own it and make it part of how you change the business. To stop such efforts only places the organization and its employees at a disadvantage.

While there is no magic answer in all this, viewing transformation through a lens of learning allows you to begin seeing the organization in a new light – guiding it to define, describe and convey both externally and internally, the true meaning of its purpose.

The tension around racial inequity and social justice is a real example of change albeit a different type of change. Individuals and organizations are examining their conscience to ascertain beliefs, truths, bias and intent. It is here in the deepest part of one’s soul where purpose can be found. Diversity and Inclusion has always been a cornerstone of real change and efficacy. It means operating without blinders, taking in all around you and sharing knowledge, fears, concerns and interests to get to a better place.

Holding a Mirror to Your Heart and Head  

Corporate change forces people and companies to literally hold a mirror to themselves and the business to see what is actually going on. COVID-19 and the tensions emanating here in the United States and abroad have initiated real inspection of not just operating practices but basic tenets and principles. What’s behind the mirror? If there were ever a time to open your eyes and ears to the real impetus of your organization and discover its meaning with a focus on redesigning and reshaping its purpose, that time is now.

Harmonizing Your Story and Your Actions

People are naturally curious. They don’t just want to know the end point, the decision. In the case of change that drives an organization through and beyond the issues and challenges impacting that organization, people want to know more than messages. They are looking for the story, the meaning, the “why” – everything that went into the decisions that shaped the strategy and what people are doing to support it. If we can share with people, through anecdotes, examples, lessons, the inside story, we can help them see, hear, experience, learn and, ultimately, discover on their own. In extending messages to stories, managers and communicators alike should begin asking themselves questions to help shape their stories:

  • What do your people see?
  • What are they experiencing?
  • How do they respond to organizational initiatives?
  • What are you trying to solve? What challenges does your strategy seek to address?
  • What have people done in similar situations, either inside the company or from another industry?
  • What can or does success look like?
  • Are there personal examples to draw from that illuminate the premise?

Change is difficult. Particularly in a time of such disruption. As of three months ago, there is no rule book. There is a new playing field. A new way to manage, lead and engage people. A new set of customer expectations. New platforms. New ecosystems.

It is the right time to continue pursuing true change, not stop it or pause it!

Gary 


Read our latest report, “Corporate Relevance in the Age of Social Unrest

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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Coming out of COVID-19, organizations, brands must redefine, clarify themselves to establish relevance

One of the biggest, most important outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic will be how organizations and brands redefine, reposition and describe themselves. For both companies and individuals, the last three months have been a myriad of experiences with everyone fixated on the virus and its implications. Lost in this haze of uncertainty and fear has been clarity around the purpose, direction, value and meaning that organizations provide to the marketplace and society at large.

Reintroducing your company and brand(s) provides a pathway back to relevance and trust, propelling efficacy in the minds and actions of key stakeholders. It’s a bridge from nowhere to making a great first impression…again! Like everything else, it’s never about the “what.” But in this case the “how.” It all starts with a new story that captures the business as it looks forward, retaining what it has learned.

To prepare for a new prism through which to view your organization, take note of the following considerations to inspire and engage a more motivated set of behaviors and actions:

  1. It’s all Digital NowCOVID has made the digital experience and digital technologies commonplace in enhancing the customer and employee journey.
  2. Always Start Inside…The most affected group during this time has been your employees. Involving them in the process of reimagining the business is essential to authenticity and sustainability, not to mention retention and recruitment.
  3. Never Make It About You…Reframing your organization must start with your stakeholders. How has their reality changed? What are you doing to support, change or mitigate it?
  4. Base Your Narrative on One Thing…Giving people the chance to comprehend and digest your story begins with presenting one key element of your purpose and value proposition. Attempting to tell everything only confuses and obfuscates the organization’s promise.
  5. Make Sure You’re Empathetic…When you empathize with your stakeholders, you create trust and belief.
  6. Rediscover Your Stakeholders…Now is the time to truly uncover what motivates those important to you. Data and analytics provide deep insight and direction.
  7. Determine Their Relevance…Knowing what concerns, interests, needs and wants drive people and marrying it with your strategy, value and purpose puts in focus relevance. Relevance is the new Reputation as it enables engagement.

What we have been dealing with is unprecedented. Over the course of a few weeks, the entire world stopped. Personal safety became job #1. Company goals, objectives and imperatives blurred. Brands were pushed to the back of one’s mind. A sense of unity and kinship prevailed. As we find our way back, it is imperative that organizations once again stimulate innovation, empower employees, and address expectations.

The first step is recognizing the climate they are returning to…and provide a fresh face from which to be seen, heard and known.

“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda

Gary


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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For a copy of the W2O COVID-19 Relevance Analysis, click here.

It seems like we’re coming out of the dark.  That the curve is largely flattened and we’re now on the road to recovery. Some Governors are easing restrictions to reopen the economy in phases. Yet many of us are not venturing out even with masks.

All this creates tension.

Tension both of the challenging and productive sort is defining the differences stakeholders are addressing with regard to government and private sector response initiatives. 

At the intersection of how companies are behaving and what stakeholders expect in the midst of COVID, is where Relevance resides.  Approximately eight weeks ago, our firm refocused its Relevance Framework and Model to better discern how companies are maintaining a connection to an engagement with key stakeholders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The result is a strong covenant of data that shows company responses to COVID-19 and the evolution over time as the pandemic continues to unfold and our knowledge becomes more acute. Among the most interesting findings are the tensions resulting from maintaining relevance:

Relevance Peaked Two Week Ago

The data indicates that relevance peaked two weeks ago and appears to be plateauing as fewer articles are being written on the subject and people are sharing less. We’re finding that relevant companies are embracing the following tensions not as diametrically opposite but something to be balanced.

National vs. Local

Relevant organizations are recognizing and engaging within the tension between national, state, and city-level leadership. They are doing so by providing a point-of-view on the resulting differences and engaging especially employees in a discussion. Trust has shifted away from the federal government and toward state leadership and local media.

Public Health vs. The Economy

Relevant organizations are mindful of the tension between public health and the economy and civil liberties by indicating their policies for returning to work and protecting jobs during this time.

Societal Good vs. Long-Term Business Sustainability

Relevant organizations are stepping up providing goods and services for free or at significantly reduced prices for the common good and, thinking ahead about the long-term sustainability of their operations. These efforts are being down without much fanfare.

New Type of Marketing

Relevant organizations continue to empathize with and support stakeholders more than marketing to them. Some organizations have significantly curtailed or completely suspended advertising.  Some have donated their ad space to small businesses.  Consumers seem to be indicating that it’s OK to market to them on something outside of the virus.  In fact, 90% of ads on Google are non-COVID-19 related and performing well.

The New Normal vs. the Next Normal

COVID-19 has put a magnifying glass on pre-existing macro trends such as organizational digital transformation and innovation.  It’s accelerating those macro trends. Organizations that are seeing a relevance bump as a result of accelerated transformation are thinking about how to sustain it post-COVID-19.

It’s taken some time for stakeholders and organizations to embrace these tensions as an ‘AND’ not an ‘OR.’  As we observe that consumers are engaging with less news on COVID-19, it’s ever-more important that companies continue to recognize that:

  • Empathy is key
  • Actions speak louder than words
  • Response initiatives must account for all stakeholders and be long-term-centric
  • Transparency is a not optional
  • Partnerships drive faster innovation
  • Agility is essential
  • Stability is expected

Maintaining Relevance in a time of uncertainty is incredibly difficult as stakeholders are more demanding holding organizations, brands, governments, leaders accountable for action. We will continue to refresh the W2O Relevance Index and Model to identify new trends, determine how these trends evolve, and uncover key themes related to moving forward beyond COVID-19.

In the meantime, stay safe and healthy.

Contributions to this content were made by Gary Grates, Chuck Hemann, Stephen Yoon, Marianne Gollub, Katy Hagert, Becky Vonsiatsky, Barbara Pinto, and Justin Harris, of W2O.


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In this time of COVID-19, there is a real chance to separate the pretenders from the contenders and ask yourself what’s really important.

It’s the moment to change your reality. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that right now is a moment of truth.

If you want a voice in Washington or Westminster, engage! If you want to improve your performance, engage! If you want a better relationship with customers, patients or employees, engage! If you want to know your organization’s vision, purpose, efficacy, engage! If you want a more meaningful experience at work, engage!

Not long ago, the way we conducted business was still fairly linear. All of that has changed. Today, you have to be more mindful than ever of the immediacy of information. Information sharing and analysis today is not only immediate, it’s also democratic in the sense that everyone can be an “expert” with the “right” to provide assessments. That’s both exhilarating and, admittedly, a bit disconcerting. We are using new technologies and platforms to access, respond, share and inform ourselves and our stakeholders.

However, in some very meaningful ways, if we don’t take this content and use it to bolster our confidence, we won’t truly engage in solving the issues and challenges before us. What will happen is that we either become apathetic to the situation or, worse, a victim of its impact. The bottom line is this: we have a wealth of information at our fingertips, so there is no excuse for not becoming involved and making a difference.

Re-consider your purpose…

As a student council president, an entrepreneur and now a CEO of a global firm, I’ve always looked at the world “glass half full.” This attitude is reflected in addressing challenges head on and engaging full throttle to achieve the right result. It all begins with purpose. What are you here for? What do you believe in? What are you willing to fall on your sword for? How are you going to work together to achieve it?

There’s no rulebook to rely on here. It’s in your heart. And in your hands.

Don’t hesitate….

The key to engaging rests with speed. The faster you get involved to solve problems, take a stand, offer new ideas, close a gap, and make a difference, the more successful your actions.

It’s about what you Do, not what you Say…

The need for action has never been more critical for business sustainability and societal impact. People who go full in and engage will be viewed as essential – not waiting for hand-holding or a push but, rather, driving the business forward.

Cause vs. symptom…

In the end, it’s about offering solutions that attack the cause and not merely providing a bunch of activities meant to address only the symptoms. It means moving beyond the message right into the types of actions or decisions necessary to achieve the desired outcome.

Despite everything we’ve learned about organizational and individual behavior, COVID-19 is rewriting how business and government operates in a time of crisis. If there was ever a time for all of us to stand up and engage fully in shaping the future in a positive manner, it’s now. There is no room for complaining. No room for indifference.

“The future belongs to those who believe in their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

And, I might add, who are willing to make them happen!

Stay safe and healthy!

Jim


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

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