Tip Sheet: Seven Missteps That Could Be Sinking A Corporate Communications Program

The days when corporate communications amounted to a glib "PR man" with a lengthy Rolodex are long gone. Today, the communications professional has grown into a full-fledged business operation with a direct impact on the bottom line and an integral role in an organization. Smart organizations know this; they build a communications team that can manage all outside and internal perceptions of their company, especially when it come to constituencies like customers, government officials, opinion leaders and employees. These organizations create a communication team that can build, maintain and protect the corporate and brand image - no matter what happens. They understand anything less could mean serious reputation damage. Consider the following seven missteps that could be derailing a communications program. 1. A Lack of Strategy: Too often, a corporation's communications team is strictly reactive, lacking a strategic direction with long-term goals and a clear ROI. Issuing disjointed press releases, for example, can do more harm than good. To remedy this, make sure your communications program is a strategic effort developed and aligned with your organization's business-planning process. 2. Minimal Integration: There are many communications disciplines that can shape your company's corporate reputation - including public relations, employee communications, marketing, advertising, government relations and financial communications. If you're not careful, these disciplines can end up working at cross-purposes. The result is two steps backward for every one step forward. For instance, in financial communications Wall Street loves to hear about good sales margins. Consumers, on the other hand, are not so pleased to learn that large sums of their money are going into fat profits. Because of this dynamic, crowing about your profits could end up angering your customers. Top-tier corporations try to avoid these disconnects, ensuring that they're not their own worst enemy. 3. Jumping From One Communications Fad to the Next: It may be tempting to roll out a corporate blog or release your own viral YouTube video. But blindly sinking your resources into the latest high-tech wizardry may turn out to be a fool's errand (remember the Dot Com boom?). A good corporate-communications team will focus on proven tactics that are customized to the needs of your stakeholders. However, that's not to say emerging technologies aren't valuable tools, in many cases they are. But your communications staff should be smart enough to know which tactics to use, when to use them and for whom. The key is to keep your focus on the core mandate: managing the corporate reputation. 4. Ignoring Corporate Vulnerabilities: A good communications team should stay ahead of the threats that could dilute your brand by helping top leadership identify and manage key vulnerabilities. This applies to everything from a hostile takeover to an unexpected customer incident (a real concern in the age of cell-phone cameras and YouTube videos). Too often, corporate communications professionals allow critical issues to sneak up on them. They must then scramble to build a reactive initiative. A communications team should be constantly assessing all corporate vulnerabilities and alerting top management to these risks - a move that will allow you to take preemptive action before a reputation is damaged. 5. Choosing the Wrong People: It goes without saying that a quality communication staff is vital to effective corporate-reputation management. Yet companies often select their communications head based on a specific technical aptitude, like writing or media relations. Unfortunately, such skills do not necessarily make for an effective communications executive. A communications executive should also have the institutional acumen and business qualifications to run a full-scale reputation-management program. Also, be especially wary of communications professionals with an "if it ain't broken don't fix it" attitude. They could be doing a reputation more harm than good. 6. Getting Stuck in the Reactivity Rut: It's easy for a communicator to get stuck hopping from one brush fire to the next. That's why it's crucial for a communications team to avoid a bunker mentality. Instead, it should consistently and aggressively keep the positive/factual news front and center. One way to do this is to utilize some of the same strategies and tactics commonplace among consumer-goods companies - constantly interfacing with the public to build an affinity for you company. After all, maintaining a good reputation is easier than repairing a damaged one. 7. Keeping it all In-House: No corporate-communications team can do it all. Seasoned communicators realize this. As a result, they aren't afraid to pull in outside experts for projects beyond their core aptitudes. They may call on third-party consultants to conduct a local or regionalized program, or provide a specific tactical service like customer-satisfaction research or market-segmentation development. Also consider bringing in a third-party to periodically assess your communications readiness and functional effectiveness. Doing so can help you improve existing efforts and bring fresh ideas to the table. The bottomline is that a top-flight corporate-communications program is vital to an organization's success - which means an organization needs the right team, with the right tactics and the right strategy. CONTACT: Terry Hemeyer is a Senior Counselor for Pierpont Communications and a professor at University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at 713.819.1322.

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