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One of the most common challenges communications executives face during times of crisis is when and how to calibrate the proper corporate response.

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Originally Published PR Week, August 12, 2011 (subscription access only)

The old adage, "I'm from Corporate and I'm here to help" is well understood for what it implies: Corporate help is an oxymoron.

It doesn't have to be.

But research indicates that a sizable gap remains between the value Corporate practitioners believe they deliver to their companies and the perception of those practitioners who reside in business units.


The principal driver of this disconnect is the certainty with which Corporate practitioners believe it is of strategic importance that all employees know of and appreciate the work of the total enterprise, and the equally certain perspective that business unit practitioners believe the overwhelming focus must be on what is most relevant and actionable and, therefore, must be about their business unit.

What to do?

Let me preface five tips I have to share with an acknowledgment of a bias: I believe there is a strong role for Corporate.  But executing it successfully takes equal measures substance and style.

Here are five ways in which Corporate can succeed:

Define your role and earn grassroots support... What's your purpose as it relates to the businesses? Strategic guidance?  Talent management? Leveraging scale to achieve optimal cost efficiencies? Driving big enterprise-wide ideas? What are the needs in the units in which Corporate can make a meaningful difference?

Be high value...Corporate practitioners usually play two roles: one is executing purely corporate activities (e.g. investor relations; executive communications; etc.) and the other requires some level of inter-dependency with business units (e.g. reputation initiatives; CSR; digital strategies; marketing support; etc.).  In this latter category, Corporate ideally is an advisor and co-strategist. To earn its place comfortably alongside the business units, Corporate practitioners must be the best, most qualified practitioners in the company for the niches in which they advise.

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Originally Published PR Week, June 30, 2011 (subscription access only)

I've noticed that many companies that instinctively know they should be active in social media are moving forward tentatively and would like to move faster.

These organizations have grasped the importance of social media to their communications strategy. But whether it's because they're nervous about diving into the online conversation, or caught up in internal bickering over who "owns" it, or lack confidence in their strategy, their tentative pace is denying them the benefits of a more robust online engagement. They know they should be moving faster, but they're not sure how to do it.

Last week, while I was participating in an excellent Arthur W. Page Society "Future Leaders Experience," the group addressed this problem. Three success factors for accelerating successful online engagement emerged from the discussion:

1. Pique their competitive nature with a "best practices" assessment

Companies are often risk averse and don't like to be too far out front in using new technologies. Reviews of "best practices" often provide a level of comfort that comes from knowing what their peers are doing, learning from the mistakes of others, and benchmarking their own progress against leaders both outside and from within their own industries.

But "best practices" reviews have another motivating effect: they fire up people's competitive instincts. Nothing concentrates management's attention so much, or motivates them to action, as learning that a competitor is stealing the lead on them, and the race to benefit from engagement in social media is no exception.

2. Identify the key digital influencers in your space, and the hidden successes in your company

Sometimes, organizations don't move forward because they don't know where to start. In social media, management may be aware of platforms like Twitter and Facebook as factors in their personal lives, yet have no idea how those two platforms - and the much larger online ecosystem - influences their customers, employees and other stakeholders. Without knowing where to target their attention or their resources, they end up doing nothing.

They may also be relatively unaware of the small, experimental efforts already underway within their organization.

The fix? Do a thorough audit of the "digital ecosystem" in which your company operates, together with a careful look inside the company to see where social media activity already is (or isn't) underway. Find opportunities to create small success stories, and make the people who have achieved them champions (and trainers) who can help bring other, less adventurous, units up to speed.

Don't be surprised if some of your best success stories come from tired, mainstay brands that are willing to take some risks to rejuvenate their image. Think about how P&G stalwart "Old Spice" shook up its category with the "I'm on a horse" video that went viral.

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Originally Published PR Week, March 4, 2011 (subscription access only)

I spent many years on the agency side - at Burson-Marsteller, Ketchum, and GCI Group - pitching business and always wondering what it would be like on the other side of the table.

Now I know.

My firm doesn't do a lot of agency search for our clients, but occasionally we're asked to help out. Coincidentally, we've been involved in a few situations just since the beginning of the year.

The process is enlightening. Here are some lessons learned that agencies would be well advised to consider.

Stand for something. During an RFI stage, particularly if the agency's information is being communicated only in writing, be sure you write your information in a concise, crisp manner - and absolutely be sure your firm stands for something. Have a point of view on measurement; articulate a client service model or an approach to audience insights that you believe works exceptionally well for your firm and for your clients.

Pure capabilities are only a starting point; why would having good capabilities mean you should win? Don't you think the client is only talking to firms with the requisite capabilities? And sell yourselves, don't sell against others. Selling against others is usually off-the-mark and is almost always unappealing.

Read the rules. When clients are considering a range of agencies, they're looking for reasons to either include or exclude firms from the next round. Don't give them easy reasons to exclude you. Sounds ridiculous, but in just a few situations, I've already seen firms respond to a request for two or three paragraphs on a subject with eight or nine paragraphs; with a request to provide a three-to-five page narrative on a client situation with a 19-page PowerPoint deck; with a request for certain insights into international market credentials with a link to the company's website. Don't make it so easy to cut your firm.

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PulsePoint Group
February 2, 2011

A recap of the previos week's POV posts:

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Originally Published PR Week, January 28, 2011 (subscription access only)

Research among CEOs and line-of-business executives reveals that the single-most common criticism of communications professionals is that below the CCO level the function is primarily occupied by tacticians.

A common result: when divisional or business unit leadership meet to discuss strategy, the PR person -- perhaps other than the CCO -- is often left out.

Are most PR pros really not capable of engaging at that level?

Unlikely, but here are a few thoughts.

First, every CCO needs to be honest with his or her evaluation of talent.  The most critical time is when hiring is done. If we're candid, we often do hire tacticians. After all, we need to get things done.

We also tend to hire from a common pool, that is, people from within our profession.

The consequence often means a talent pool that doesn't have the same academic qualifications and /or serious business experience as other staff functions.

Bottom line: Hire smart. Raise the bar. And, as the business we're in gets increasingly sophisticated, there are plenty of high-ranking B-school grads, for example, who would welcome a career in our profession.

Second, and this is a tricky one, it just may be difficult to be both a tactician and a strategist at the same time.

Let's be clear: We need to do a lot more than provide counsel. We need to get stuff done. The greater the demands and the higher volume of output, the more communications staffers get buried in the day-to-day.  That may be reality.

But getting stuff done is a given. Flawless execution is a table-stake. No one earns a reputation for just doing what's expected of them.

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