Restore order to an unruly comms department

Created by CJ Alvarado
November 11, 2015

No matter the size of your organization, you need a strong communications (comms) department—even if that department is a team of one. There’s too much chatter out there about your industry, product, customer—and about you—to be in the dark! To create a great comms department, we’ve got to start with the role of the comms department.

A communications department is a means of connection between people, products, platforms, or places.

It is easier than ever to communicate given the tools available, but it doesn’t mean everyone is effective at it. Here are three simple ingredients found in all great communications departments.

1. Have Clear Understanding of the Vision

  • At Twitter, the vision is “to be the Pulse of the Planet.”
  • At Google it’s “to organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
  • At NASA, it’s “to explore the Heavens.”

A clear vision informs the strategies that guide communications. When there is no vision, then something will fill it. If individuals or departmental agendas rule, the brand’s message can confuse its core audience. When there is no vision, communications can feel like the wild west.

For years, Kodak was one of them most innovative companies in the world. They had bright engineers and one of the most advanced labs in the world. In 1975, a Kodak engineer was the first to invent Digital Photography. Kodak ignored the new innovation and continued to focus on marketing and communicating the need for film. As the industry changed, Kodak lagged behind. Had the vision, for example, been “to capture moments” Kodak could have remained as relevant today as they were then. It took Kodak 25 years to get into digital photography even though they had invented the technology so long ago. In the end, it was already too late. Kodak declared bankruptcy in 2012. The story has become a cautionary tale of a how a successful company lost site of it’s vision and connecting people to it.

2. Have Clear Communication Priorities

If vision is like introducing law to the wild west, then having communication priorities is like having a new sheriff in town. The sheriff upholds the law. You need both to have order.

It never ceases to amaze me how many organizations lack communication priorities.

Priorities act as a filter to help organizations decide what gets attention, resources, and why. I was working with a national nonprofit that had over 45 departments. All were vying for the marketing and communications spotlight. The wild west was alive and kicking. When I arrived, everyone had free will on the language, look, and feel of the marketing material they created. There were no standards, no guidelines, and no priorities. You could look at three brochures and wonder if it was from the same organization. Whoever had the relational capital—or screamed the loudest—got their way. Each department functioned as its own island. To them, the whole organization existed to support whatever the individual department’s vision was.

By introducing communication priorities, we turned the organization around. The priorities outlined what initiatives received priority. It also outlined, what departments, events, and initiatives were eligible for specific communication channels. In time, we dispelled and dismissed the notion that all departments received "equal time." We had to reestablished the fact that the organization didn’t exist for individual departments; each department existed to serve the vision of the organization.

Did everyone get on board immediately? No, of course not. That’s ok. Soon, everyone began to see the results of a more focused communication strategy. That meant their departments became benefactors, too. They began receiving more traffic, leads, and visibility. Working together, the brand was able to achieve more than any one of them could or had by themselves.

3. Find the Right Channels

Today there are more communication channels than ever. There are four major types, which can be remembered by the acronym P.E.S.O.

  • Paid: Channels you pay to market or communicate on. Ex: billboards, radio, tv.
  • Earned: Channels you have earned the right to communicate on. Ex: blogs, podcasts, news sites.
  • Shared: Channels you share with users. Ex: Facebook, Twitter. Youtube, blog comments, forums, etc.
  • Owned: Channels you own and manage. Ex: your website, app, etc.

It’s important to identify what channels are most relevant and most effective. Not every channel is considered equal. Great communication teams know how to find, build, and nurture their channels. How do you do that with so many options?

Consider two things:

  1. Where is your audience?
  2. How do you talk to them there?

If you run a nonprofit for the elderly, SnapChat is probably not the channel for you. No matter how great it is, your audience is probably not on there. Don’t waste your time there. Instead, you may consider other channels. I never encourage a company to be everywhere, per se. I encourage them to know their audience and be there.

Once you’re there, you have to be aware of how you talk to them. Nothing makes you seem out of touch, clueless, and awkward than the way you communicate with your audience on their platforms of choice. For example, if you’re using Instagram, take great photos and video. Keep comments consistent with your brand attributes. Don’t be afraid of using emoticons to help give your copy some personality. More and more corporate communication is moving to conversational and microstyles. To be long-winded and too buttoned up is a great way to be ignored.

Remember, the role of communications is to be a connection between people, products, platforms, and places. You can’t do that if you don’t know the vision, establish priorities, and build and nurture your channels. Once you find the right channels, reduce the noise and communicate in a way that is consistent with your brand and relevant to your audience.

Work with us