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Thursday, July 22, 2010

It Depends On Who You Ask

“It depends on who you ask.” That was the response I received from the head of Corporate Communications of a global semiconductor company during our annual planning session when I asked the question “what are the company’s three primary business objectives for the coming year.” Now I understand that in a large organization that different business units or divisions will have their own specific targets and objectives for the year, but I wasn’t talking with a business unit or divisional communications person, I was in the midst of annual planning with the head of Corporate Communications on behalf of the entire company. If we were going to build an effective plan that reached all of the company’s various audiences in an engaging and meaningful dialogue, we needed a solid foundation built upon clearly articulated business objectives. This wasn’t the first time I’d encountered a Corporate Communications leader who couldn’t succinctly identify the organization’s business objectives. In fact, I’d have to say that more times than not, this was something very few people in companies could clearly state. I’ve seen it happen at big global companies, smaller venture-funded companies, hardware companies, software companies and just about every company in between. And you know what? For decades, it didn’t really matter all that much if the communications people couldn’t repeat the company’s business objectives in two or three sentences. That’s because for decades, having only a general understanding of the direction the company was headed was enough to do effective marketing and communications. For years, if a marcom manager knew that the company was expanding into France and Germany, they took out ads in the top trade publications in those markets touting the company’s newest widget and put out a few press releases that had been translated into the local language. The ads ran, the press releases were issued, some articles were written in key industry magazines and the communications team celebrated their success. But we all know that in today’s digital and online environment this methodology is as outdated and ineffective as group-faxing. A company’s customers today don’t want to hear about what the company thinks about its own product or service, rather they want to know that the company understands their business challenges, has helped other companies solve similar problems and is willing to work in partnership with them to make their business thrive. To accomplish this effectively, a company must align its internal goals and objectives with the needs and wants of its customers, and then enter a long-term relationship where information is shared in both directions so each can achieve success. Sharing and receiving information with customers in an efficient and effective manner is at the heart of content-centered communications. And the starting point for this effort is the clear articulation of the company’s business objectives and alignment of those objectives across the entire organization. Which takes us back to my meeting with the head of Corp. Comm. at the semiconductor company. After much discussion, it was decided that if we were going to develop a truly effective annual plan, one that was impactful, sustainable, and measurable we needed consensus among all of the company’s leadership upon no more than 3-5 succinct corporate business objectives. Our agency took the lead on scheduling meetings with the various EVPs, divisional and business unit leaders and key internal communications people. We led sessions where we extracted business information from the various company leaders and then reconstituted it into a handful of easily articulated business objectives. Gaining consensus wasn’t an easy or quick process, but when we had accomplished it, it gave us the solid foundation upon which to build a powerful content-centered communications program. Clear articulation of a company’s business objectives isn’t a communications panacea, but it is the first step to in entering an ongoing and meaningful conversation with your customers.
Can you recite your company's business objectives, or will it depend on who you ask?

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