No real leadership without communication

The biggest challenge I face as a corporate communication advisor is access to my clients’ wants and needs. Two questions remain are what is the easiest way to know them, and how can an expert turn them into the “pitch” in order to sell them to the media? This task sometimes feels like butting head to head with the client for their benefit. On one hand, they want more media visibility to boost business. On the other hand, they can’t find the time to write a quote or a blurb for an article, or to draft an expert article with an up-to-date motif. Even though I sympathise with those with an overwhelming workload, which I know exactly how they feel, I believe the lack of involvement from these corporate experts, in terms of communication, comes from somewhere else rather than from a sheer lack of time. Let’s take a look at a few possibilities why many companies fail to manage their expertise properly to boost their media visibility.

  1. The fish stinks from the head. When the CEO isn’t seen in the media, thus showing  his or her example to the other company reps, why should subordinates act any differently? CEOs that don’t bother to send clear signals about media relations being the key element for success, we can’t expect these individual experts and board members to come forward with their ideas for their media campaigns or “pitches.”
  2. What is actually a story? Even when the CEO is visible and the company reps know media relations are important, they don’t know how to handle the issue. The company didn’t spend time identifying and sharing its key priorities for the media; thus, even those company reps who might want to assist the PR department can’t do it because they are lost in the amount of themes they handle day by day.
  3. No training, no gain. It is very important that companies invest into creative writing and media relations training for experts. Thus experts gain at least some guidance on what they are expected to deliver. Otherwise, when sitting down to write an expert article and looking at that white page without knowing where to start feels more painful than a natural childbirth, why bother?
  4. Take away the shame. Many company reps don’t want to be in the media just because they are afraid of making a mistake, which would trigger being ridiculed by colleagues or being punished by the management. Instead of seeing media relations as a fantastic opportunity to boost their personal brand, they perceive it as a hidden risk and an unnecessary evil.
  5. Good outcome, no impact. Last but not least, many companies fail to leverage on the impact of good media coverage. Even when a rep runs an excellent interview in the media, some companies don’t have a media section on the website to share the article with the world or they lack a proper client newsletter to share the article with customers and thus bring over palpable business gains. Moreover, company reps receive no targeted feedback, praise or reward for their media efforts. This leads to a fall in motivation and to even less coverage in the future.

What can we do in our companies to boost the know-how flow towards the PR department and thus enhance our chance to receive more free and relevant media visibility?

  1. Inspire by personal example. Make is absolutely clear to everyone that communication is essential and is a priority for the whole company.
  2. Praise, praise, praise. As soon as a good article is published, transform the author into the hero of the day. Share the article across the company and be lavish in your praise. Make sure the author receives positive feedback and clear understanding on how his efforts contributed to grow the company business.
  3. Reward positive efforts. It is not farfetched to consider bonuses for communication efforts. I advise clients to include clear reward policies in the labor contracts of major company reps, tying communication results to individual performance indicators of the individual, and thus making it crystal clear that communication is a priority for everybody.
  4. Think strategically. There is nothing worse than expectations without clear guidance. Make the business and communication goals of the company clear to everybody. Share with everyone and update regularly the messages that the company is trying to communicate. Assign a clear role for every person involved in the process, to make sure people know where they stand and what their duties are in terms of communication.
  5. Train, train, train. Train everyone into becoming better communicators. It will return to you in many miraculous ways, even though it might just be an improved atmosphere at the labor place or higher customer satisfaction.

It is my belief that without inspiring communication there is no leadership. Yet, everyone must start somewhere. Communication is such an obvious a part of leadership that we tend to take it for granted. Many times the difference between a real leader and a manager who is forgotten as soon as he goes into retirement lies into what he brought out to the world, into how he shared the lessons he learned on his path, and how many people will remember him after he’s gone. If you find a way to achieve that without communication, let me know. If not, make it a priority and start with yourself. It will pay off – sooner than later.

Slavomír Dušek