Massaging Messages Into Great Shape16 years, 7 months ago
Gerry Griffin offers some excellent advice on fine-tuning corporate messaging.
The thing is, we are sending out messages all of the time. Our behaviour, our attitude toward issues can speak volumes. The organisation can claim to be people oriented, but how it behaves during a restructuring, for example, will send out the real (and lasting) message.
Used effectively, messaging not only tells the world about what your business is or wants to be; it can carve out competitive advantage. The Body Shop’s stance on animal testing and fair trading helped to differentiate its products from those of other cosmetics retailers. Anita Roddick could never have done this just by promoting moisturizer.
The question is: do you want to try and manage the messages you send out? Easier said than done. First off, you need to walk the talk - align what you say with what you do.
Second, you need to be consistent. Lack of alignment between words and deeds or between what you say today and what you said yesterday corrodes credibility. If communication is an information transaction, then credibility is your currency. No point in sending out volumes of information if you are trading low in the credibility stakes.
Are You In Control?
The next question is, how much control can you have in this allegedly managed process? Well structured, coherent messages delivered at appropriate times, through high impact channels, at specific audiences by passionate or at least engaged spokespeople have a better chance of succeeding.
Let’s unpack this:
• Structure: What is a message? A message is a fact, plus value. We have 12,000 employees is a fact. We are a major global employer is a message. The (added) value being that the message is asserting something which implies a business value (...implies something valuable to the audience).
• Coherence: Every member of staff, from the board director to the receptionist, is daily communicating both open and subliminal messages about the organisation to outsiders. When different parts of the organisation give out, intentionally or unintentionally, slightly varying messages, the effect is to dilute the strength of the intended communication. Corporate messaging is like a laser: it only works when every element is on the same wavelength. Rigorous training of professional communicators and committed two-way internal communication throughout the organisation are absolutely essential to get this right.
• Timing: Like comedy the secret to good messaging is timing. This is because your messages are there to prompt action. And this action should drive business value.
• Channel: Sending out a difficult message to employees about a restructuring programme is better done face-to-face rather than by SMS. This is common sense - but common sense does not always mean common practice.
• Audience: Let’s not engage in drive-by messaging! Budgets are by definition finite - so engage with the direct and indirect audiences who can help advance the organisational or business ‘cause’.
• Spokespeople: If you are going to deliver impactful messages, you have to first inhale them. Today, audiences are less willing to accept corporate waffle than ever before. So you have to learn how to bring part of yourself to the message - while still rating the organisational goals and the need for consistency.
Let’s clean up corporate graffiti. An often cited aim behind the need for better messaging is the desire for a better organisational veneer. But this is to see messaging as essentially a rhetorical exercise - crafting words to buff the organisation’s image, or worse, buffer the organisation from its stakeholders.
This is to add to all the corporate graffiti already out there - mission statements, corporate slogans and other often ill-considered verbiage which organisations love to display and which everybody else, not least their staff, walks past and tries to ignore.
But try this: why not conceive of messaging as the sincere attempt to summarise the organisation’s essence, difference and stance; to map out its pathway and alert its varying stakeholders as to the role they can play in this journey? Messaging should not seek to mask the reality but deliver it in a managed way (i.e. achieve organisational goals).
Messaging needs to be authentic - the explosion of blogging around the world reveals a yearning for authentic views. Remember, the etymology of authentic is auto-hentes, from the Greek meaning self-creation. This implies that it is in our hands to deliver proper messages.
The world of message management is dynamic: what worked once may work again, but maybe it won’t - maybe it never will again. Complacency is the enemy in message management. It’s a contact sport and the people developing and delivering the messages must never stop engaging with their audiences, listening to their reactions and understanding their expectations.
Gerry Griffin, a former head of training at Burson-Marsteller and director of communications at the London Business School, is founder of Business Communication Forum (BCF), a training company that operates in 30 countries worldwide. Clients of BCF are large multi-national market leaders such as Kraft Foods, Novartis, London Business School, Sony Ericcson, Unilever and Astra Zeneca International. All BCF training programmes are high energy and tailored to the specific requirements of each individual or organisation. In addition to this, all face-to-face training is then complemented with web-based learning. This enables the task of continuous training to run seamlessly and successfully and marries good content with good technology.mail the author
visit the author's website
Forward, Post, Comment | #IpraITLWe are keen for our IPRA Thought Leadership essays to stimulate debate. With that objective in mind, we encourage readers to participate in and facilitate discussion. Please forward essay links to your industry contacts, post them to blogs, websites and social networking sites and above all give us your feedback via forums such as IPRA’s LinkedIn group. A new ITL essay is published on the IPRA website every week. Prospective ITL essay contributors should send a short synopsis to IPRA head of editorial content Rob Gray email
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook