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Insight: Six Burning Issues

Six issues keeping Communications Directors awake at night (maybe)

By Steve Quah

Like most creative agencies, we spend a certain amount of our time and our resources looking for new business. So, over the space of a couple of days, we recently met with over 40 Communication Directors at the 2016 Communication Directors’ Forum. Exhausting, but rewarding. And, as the Walrus said to the Carpenter, we could ‘talk of many things.’

This got us thinking about the key issues they talked about, and how their issues aligned with those our current clients raise with us. We decided that there are six subjects that keep coming up time and time again these days. We will return to some of them in future Insights articles, but in the meantime, here’s our take on six hot button issues for 2017.

1. How do you cascade effectively?

We develop, produce and deliver many events for leadership communities. The top two/three/five hundred people gather together for a strategy update and to help drive the forward agenda for the business. All very fine, all very clear. But one issue that Communication Directors raised with us was how to effectively cascade the messages from these ‘big events?’ They are very conscious of the investment made and are acutely aware that the messages are often not shared as widely or effectively as they should be. Partly it’s about resources, partly it’s about skills in the management population and partly it’s about channel choice and content creation. Just how do you repurpose content – if indeed that’s the right approach – and how do you get managers to do the cascade properly?

2. Managing Social Media

“Build it and they will come” to misquote Kevin Costner in The Field of Dreams. Or to put it another way: ‘To Yammer or not to Yammer, that is the question,’ (sorry Will!). Is there a place at work for Workplace? Should we trust the Facebook generation with Facebook at work? As organisations are increasingly recruiting ‘digital natives’ who expect to have such tools available, there is still no clear consensus on what is needed and how to use such tools to increase productivity and improve decision-making. The thing about water cooler conversations is that you can’t control them, but nor are you accountable for them. However, once you build an internal platform then, like it or not, you are responsible for what is on it. It has to be compliant, secure and actually useful to the enterprise. These, and many other related issues around social media are definitely high on the to-do list of the Communication Directors we have been speaking to.

3. Austerity time for internal communications

Even as we build ever more sophisticated platforms to enable free and unmoderated communication within organisations, the centralised internal communications function is increasingly seeing its resources reallocated to other areas of the business. Yet still the day job of explaining what’s going on in organisations seems to stay on what is an increasingly lonely desk. As Communication Directors struggle to ‘do more with less’ then of course they look to agency support to deliver core services and outsource more and more. But are there red lines about what really has to stay in house and are there strategies and tactics that can help you stretch your assets without breaking you? The Communications Directors we spoke with certainly hope so.

4. Communicating in uncertain times

Brexit, Trumpism, extremism, cybercrime, Russian belligerence, the Syrian catastrophe, climate change and the rest. We could go on, but we don’t have to. Robert F Kennedy speaking in Capetown in 1966 in his famous ‘Ripple of Hope’ speech said: “There is a Chinese curse which says ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.” In fact, there is no such Chinese Curse, but the idea has stuck. These are indeed interesting times. The recent referendum demonstrated that organisations tread a very fine line in communicating both externally and internally about national and global issues. Many of the people we spoke with are worried about to what to say to their people when ‘saying nothing’ isn’t really an option.

5. Communication for engagement

Effective internal communication is one of the drivers of employee engagement, but it is just only one, even though it overlaps with other key drivers such as perceptions of the ethos and values of the organisation. Others such as role clarity, career development opportunities, feedback and dialogue with superiors, compensation, and quality of working relationships are arguably more important. Communication Directors tell us that they are looking for the best ways to fulfil their core role of internal communication in explaining ‘what’s going on?’ Itself an important driver of engagement. But they also wrestle with the role of the communication function and the media it produces in improving engagement by enhancing those other drivers of engagement.

6. Communicating with Millenials

Remember Web 2.0? The buzz phrase to describe how the Web transformed itself around 2002-2005 from static pages to user generated content. People now in their twenties have never known a world that was any different. They have been online since they were children and they live in an always on, always connected and always communicating world. Millenials will be 50% of the workforce by 2020. Just getting their attention can be a challenge and they are definitely meeting and telephone averse! They are ambitious, talented and highly skilled. But they do have different communication styles. Finding what pushes their buttons is the new frontier for many Communications Directors.

And what do we think?

We are going to pick up on some of these subjects over the coming weeks. Especially those that relate to our core business in live events and screen media. In the meantime, did this list resonate with you? Are there other issues on your agenda and what have you done to tackle these topics in your organisation? We’d love to hear from you.

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