By Alan Dunton, Managing Director, Technology
You have revised the company’s strategic narrative and toiled away on an external communications plan. You are ready to begin telling the company’s story loudly and proudly. One hiccup. The executive leadership team has yet to signal their willingness to help bring the message to market in interesting ways. And without support from the top, your narrative and plan are destined to fail.
Having ‘the story’ is only half the battle — trying to espouse why the company alone is great is boring and will likely only garner attention from minimally impactful tier two trade publications. Instead, the story must be adapted to the latest events and trends, and it must add to those ongoing conversations, expose a new POV on a critical issue, or inject new data into the ether to further advance understanding of the issue. A compelling mouthpiece (read: executive spokesperson) is needed to do that.
Step one is to triage why the executives are reluctant to participate in external communications. The reasons can vary from simple disinterest in the process (which typically manifests from a lack of understanding about the role communications plays in the modern era) to general anxiety about entering the public spotlight (public speaking is not for everyone) and to being fearful of situations that cannot be fully controlled (journalists don’t follow scripts). All fixable, mind you.
Public companies, of course, must contend with more hard rules (e.g., quiet periods) and considerations when communicating externally, as CEO comments will very likely directly impact share price, for better or worse. In extreme cases, public discourse can rankle the SEC… and that is not fun even for the world’s most successful companies. For the sake of this post, however, let’s not get into that.
The Role of Executives in External Communications
Step two is to forge a path to executive involvement — helping them find comfortable and valuable ways to bring the narrative to life. Here is how to help said executives get involved in evangelizing the narrative.
Find authenticity and relevance. The company’s core product or service is what gives it license to address broader topics related to issues. Say your company makes ballpoint pens. If there is a global ink shortage, hearing from your company’s leadership about the impact of this shortage on customers and what moves you are making to counter it is what is interesting – focus on this aspect of the story.
Humanizing the story. Personal storytelling — i.e., a pivotal moment in the business, leadership lessons — can also help carry the company narrative. Work with them executives to unearth those stories.
Create narrative opportunities. While newsjacking opportunities may pop up, it’s best not to only be opportunistic. Invest in an owned data and research program that can serve as a centerpiece and “hook” for the narrative and thought leadership around it.
Look to multiple channels. Rather than solely relying on media coverage, help create another outlet for executive thought leadership via a social media or LinkedIn strategy; one that’s newsworthy but not reliant on the media. It’s really impactful.
Keep the dialog going. Keeping the lines of communication open between executive leadership and the communications team is critical to ensuring that the latter is equipped with the latest POVs on key issues, which they will translate into actionable content (pitches, contributed articles, social posts, newsjacking, etc.) and opportunities to bring your message — optimized for the story du jour — to the media, analysts and influencers who will appreciate your thoughts and who are well-primed to speak directly to the audiences your company cares about.
Evaluate, rinse, repeat. The company’s story is never done. News cycles change on a dime. If a specific storyline does not capture attention, drop it and spend the energy evaluating what the next set of connection points for it will be.
If the above is mastered, the team will begin to unlock opportunities to inject their executives into interesting conversations and executives will start to feel the momentum. At this point, the well-tuned machine needs one more ingredient to position it for success: speed. Time to get going.
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