Getting Communications Right in 2013

Despite the widely anticipated economic doom and gloom, 2012 has turned out to be a vintage year for the UK. The excitement of the Olympics, Paralympics and the Diamond Jubilee made 2012 a year of high hopes, anticipation and deep pride.

Sustaining this positivity will be the major challenge of 2013. The Eurozone’s financial troubles and austerity, the potential for low growth to become the new norm and the UK government’s apparent powerlessness in the face of these headwinds makes “business as usual” seem like the norm for communications managers.

More businesses could go under or be restructured. The survivors will be forced to look at the emerging markets for expansion, embracing cultural differences in business and communications. Against this backdrop, here are six communications challenges to be confronted in 2013:

1. Don’t forget the brand, it’s not all about business leaders: Effective leadership and effective communication working hand-in-glove play a critical role in a success of any medium to longer term campaigns, as outlined in Ketchum’s Leadership Communication Monitor study this year. Credible leadership is impossible without open communication, decisive action and personal presence of the leader. However, too many companies are making the mistake of putting their reputations behind one of a couple of key decision makers. It is a good strategy for as long as these people stay with the organisation, and will leave your company’s reputation in shreds when they are no longer part of the organisation. Get creative – any of your employees can become a local hero and a spokesperson of interest – it’s just a matter of finding the right opportunities.

2. Get a grip on social media, moving away from “damage limitation” to business enhancement: The world is a more open and global place now. That is undoubtedly a good thing – but are organisations ready for it? Forget the old-fashioned “controlled” communication. If Twitter contributed to regime change in Egypt – and became the ultimate newsroom of choice for the Israeli soldiers preparing for their recent operation in the Gaza Strip, imagine how much more it could do for companies. With 54% of mobile phones predicted to be smartphones in 2013, social media and digital offer unprecedented opportunities – and risks.

However, in spite of the perceived power of social media, it is still quite often merely an add-on task of a media manager. As companies become more experienced and focused on influencing, not controlling two-way conversations, 2013 will be a year of restructuring and consolidation of corporate social media efforts. Used effectively, it is the best tool for spotting issues and maximizing opportunities through corporate storytelling that links the corporate narrative (and specific campaigns) back to the organisation’s core ‘purpose’, corporate character, values and business competence.

3. Ensure a robust crisis preparedness and crisis management programme: Whatever the recent trends, traditional media is still going strong and is now truly global. Investigative journalism and commentary are in their prime. Could Michael Woodford, the Olympus whistleblower, have achieved the same result by talking to the local media in Japan? His predecessors tried that, he said, but did not get anywhere. The Western media took on the story, and turned the tables on the conspirators.

The lesson is that it pays to be prepared for a crisis; be it a product recall, supply chain issues, a cyber-attack or an industrial accident. It could make a difference to your employees’ safety, your customers’ well-being, or your share price recovery should anything happen. Scenario planning and live simulations are the best way to build chemistry and trust in your crisis management team. Often the media element of the crisis turns out to be the one that companies are least prepared for, and it’s that which often leads to a long term reputational damage, in addition to the immediate loss of equity value. In its effort to deliver the best possible value to our clients, Ketchum and Kenyon International, the world’s leading crisis management firm, have recently joined forces to deliver the first truly integrated global crisis, disaster management and communications offer.

4. Get your internal communications right to enhance your corporate brand: Your employees are your best advocates. Or they are meant to be. A strong corporate culture shows up inside and outside the office and is reflected even when employees are off duty. So long as people know the core purpose and values of your organization, you take away a level of risk.

The 30,000 unpaid London Olympics volunteers are a case in point. They delivered an amazing experience during the Games. Their behavior was almost uniform, because they knew what it was all about –“inspire a generation”-was what the brand stood for. This is a good illustration that employee engagement is at the heart of everything else. The internal communications piece becomes even more important in the time of recession, when companies need to keep and motivate good employees with limited financial means or perks to spare.

5. Stop focusing on the amount of media coverage and aim for strategies that make a real difference to your business outcomes: Marcoms are expected to feed into the companies’ business strategies. The role of corporate communications for the purpose of strategy, risk management and market development is increasing. Therefore, it is important to position communications as a business driver, not as a cost centre. 2013 is the year when communication professionals need to step up their ability to gain internal buy-in.

Talking to CEOs in the language of business benefits and ROI, turning it to a geeky ad chat when talking to an advertising person can certainly help them to relate to media challenges and gain a better understand of the value of PR. New PR Measurement tools could also help prove the value of PR work that has traditionally been hard to measure: social media, crisis or public affairs work.

6. Continue demonstrating the value of your company, and proving the importance of communications: At the end of the day, it’s worth remembering a famous line that restaurants and hair salons use a lot – “we are only as good as our last service provided.” We, PR professionals, are often judged by the same criteria. It’s not a coincidence that last year, PR was considered the 7th most stressful profession, ahead of senior executive due to the levels of stress and “damage limitation control” involved.

The best antidote for this stress is ensuring you know your sector and industry well, or identify people who do and can support you. Real experts in their fields will be the ones to maintain the vital ability to “keep calm and carry on” in 2013 – be it another industry scandal, Eurozone fallout, or a corporate “rightsizing.”

 

Hopefully, none of these issues materialise for you in 2013, but as we know it’s always best to be prepared to effectively deal with any eventuality! On the off chance they do, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Ketchum. At the end of the day, the challenge of unpredictability is the ultimate attraction of this job, isn’t it?

 

Anastasia Ivanova is an Account Director in the Corporate & Public Affairs Practice at Ketchum Pleon in London. She specialises in strategic and financial communications for energy, natural resources and technology companies, as well as EMEA clients. She is a massive fan of performing arts, travelling and photography. Follow her @nastissimo.