I had the pleasure of giving a four-day seminar to MBA students, at the Berlin-based Steinbeis University. I focused on three major trends that have a vital impact on today’s Corporate Communications:
- Communication controlling
- Risk management
Back when I started my career in PR, the earth was flat and PRs focused mainly on handling the media. PR life was easy, predictable and the only change we faced was the varying menu in our favorite restaurant!
However, the development of the internet and social web changed our roles fundamentally. It has put PR and communications at the center of an organization. To handle this change PR experts must use both cerebral hemispheres to manage the communication tasks and challenges: the left for rational thinking and the right for creative thinking. A modern PR needs to be a prudent risk manager, a rational controller and a creative storyteller.
A key task for PR managers is to align all communication activities with the overall business targets and strategy. Instead of solely evaluating the success of PR (media / social media coverage, share of voice, key message penetration etc.), communication controlling links the PR activities with the strategic goals of an organization.
Most Fortune 500 companies are influenced by Kaplan/Norton’s balanced scorecard approach. The central element of Kaplan/Norton’s theory is to define the vision and strategy of a company and break these down to operational targets. These business targets are not just commercial or financial. Kaplan/Norton added “Customer”, “Internal Business Processes” and “Learning and Growth” as important non-financial elements to measure the business success of an organization. With this in mind, communication departments need to correlate activity with the four perspectives of a balanced scorecard to demonstrate vvalue. Instead of evaluating only the output, PR needs to measure and analyze the outcome and outflow (see figure 1).
Another left-brain discipline is to act and think as Risk Manager. In traditional crisis PR, focus was only on manufacturing industries as any crises were commonly due to industrial accidents, product failures or environmental disasters. In today’s fast-moving world, a crisis can happen to any company – regardless of industry, size or quality, due to two main factors. Journalists are increasingly under pressure to be the first with a breaking story. Speed means facts are not checked. Negative stories lead to online clicks and higher circulation. A second ‘fire accelerant’ for crisis is social media. Customer, former staff and an increasingly skeptical audience now use social media as a platform to self-publish and distribute views and frustrations with a brand. No business is immune from social media criticism. Examples such as Dolce & Gabbana, Dominos Pizza, Qantas, Nestlé, Pril or ING DIBA in Europe show how vulnerable companies have become. This means the new type of PR manager needs to act as risk manager. In the pre-crisis phase. we need to analyze potential crisis scenarios, develop structures and processes, monitor closely relevant debates and invest time and money for authentic, transparent stakeholder relations. If a crisis occurs, the media and consumer don’t judge the fact that there is a crisis. They judge how an organization handles the crisis and risk management goes far beyond the crisis management at the time.
And the job description of the next generation of communication experts goes further than controller and troubleshooter.
Creativity is the key to success whichever sector you work in. A modern communicator needs to be a digital storyteller. There will no longer be a successful product launch, a sustainable thought-leadership initiative or an employer branding campaign without a compelling story. B2b companies need to move from a rational fact, figures and features-driven campaign to storytelling. What do we need for a great story? A hero, a plot and, in some cases, a place. That’s all. Instead of boring the audience with left-brain facts and information, PR experts need to entertain and emotionalize audiences. Information is just bones. Stories are the flesh and blood. We need to show a movie or pictures at the audience’s inner-cinema. And with digital PR, we have a complete and endless selection of tools such as infographics, virals, videos as well as text. One of the greatest examples of this for for me, is the Lenovo ThinkPad T420s campaign. The key message is simple – the boot-up time is just 10 seconds. The hero: a laptop. The action: Free fall. The place: 6,000 meters above the earth. That simple. That powerful. Watch and enjoy.