Relationship-Building for Global Stakeholder Engagement

10 years, 1 month ago


Gail S. Thornton The Author's Details Gail S. Thornton works in Merck’s Global Communications department. Formerly, she was vice president of international communications at Schering-Plough Corporation, which is now part of Merck. E-mail the author Vi

- The head of communications in Spain created a market access and communications program among health and government authorities, physicians, and patient advocacy groups to draw attention to new and different treatment options for opioid dependence and paved the way for a specific drug’s reimbursement in the country.
-- The head of communications in Italy developed a communications plan to promote a locally based health and economic analysis on the rising health care expenditures related to cardiovascular disease through a partnership with general practitioners, health economists and physicians.
-- The head of communications in Finland took advantage of a corporate investors’ conference to give a Finnish foreign journalist based in New York the chance to speak with senior management about the need for pharmaceutical innovation.
-- The head of communications in Europe developed a multi-country program that created a receptive environment for physicians to discuss current hormonal contraceptive practices, available alternatives and contraception preferences based on individual lifestyles with adult female patients. This program formed the basis for another multi-country hormonal contraceptive program which was implemented throughout Asia-Pacific.

These are a few examples of stakeholder engagement – the process that many communicators around the world are using to develop partnerships with key audiences in order to achieve a company’s strategic goals by aligning specific business strategies with global market challenges. Simply put, stakeholder engagement means hearing the value in what the stakeholders – both internally and externally – have to say and responding in a creative, proactive and measurable way.

Language and cultural differences notwithstanding, applying effective business communications is universal in that common corporate direction and goals are needed. How global communications programs achieve those goals are typically the culmination of extensive relationship building and meaningful engagement with a company’s regional and country communicators. As rudimentary as this may appear, it can be a quality that is easy to overlook in day-to-day operations.

Inspiring your team to excellence

Every team has a leader, in one form or another, sometimes as a result of a direct reporting relationship or indirectly through a matrix-reporting relationship – or in some organizations a combination of both. That said, leadership involves active listening and the development of key relationships from the start of the process. Regional and country communicators need to be appreciated for their collaboration and value – and should be recognized as being part of the extended global communications team.

Those communicators will always look to headquarters for guidance and direction, but it is the respect and recognition that headquarters’ bestows on them that will inspire confidence in programs and encourage excellence in their application.

Lastly, never underestimate your country communicators’ capacity to learn and perform as professional communicators, but always underestimate their understanding of your vision. Be clear in your expectations and ensure that everyone understands their role as an integral part of a cohesive global communications team, yet give them latitude to adapt locally and make it their success.

The basics need reinforcement

To build an effective international communications team, you need to revisit the basics. Here are a few points for management to consider:

• Start with building support among local management for the communications function, assess regional business needs – and then gain alignment on the overall company vision as well as regional and local country business and communications objectives.
• Play an essential role in recruiting the best talent in regional and country roles – as top communicators are essential building blocks for driving the communications function and positioning it strategically in the eyes of management. The communications function should be highly visible locally as part of the country management team and often reporting into a country general manager or president.
• Set the strategy for communicating proactively and reactively in global time zones. Develop standards and processes that can be used across geographies, including review of all plans and press materials as the world is a very small place when news travels from one continent to another.
• Keep an open mind as you begin to consider and plan for global strategic and local tactical execution. While headquarters may lead the charge in most global business plans, it is the regional and country operations that will truly validate the concept and legitimize the strategy behind those plans.
• Continue to serve as a conduit internationally among country communicators and build value and importance for the function of communications through constant region support and feedback – in the regions as well as in headquarters.
• Develop linkages with other global support functions for accountability and transparency – after all, you are all part of the same company with similar goals.
• Measure your global and local efforts through a communications scorecard and internally created database with defined metrics.

Of course, nothing breeds success like success. The sharing of best practices and outcomes across borders not only encourages others to aspire, but also will motivate your team to work smarter and more efficiently now that your plan has been effectively demonstrated and is no longer just theory.

You know when the process is working when regional and country communicators reach out to each other – across geographies – and the great work is shared back in headquarters. The process is multi-pronged as there is a defined process for sharing information and results through individual update calls, weekly conference calls, frequent country visits, global communications meetings and informal gatherings.

The basics are worth revisiting as you build or strengthen an international team since there is a common denominator for effective communications – change behaviors and influence outcomes. This includes adapting your message to the particular stakeholder and confirming receptivity through feedback. Remember, good communication starts with saying something in a way it can be understood, but great communication is saying something in a way that it cannot be misunderstood!

The right tool for the right job

Reinforce with your team that a global communications program is not a one-way exercise, but a busy avenue of two-way traffic that supports creative thinking and sharing of ideas that helps meet common business needs and goals. The results will be astonishing to your colleagues – your country linkages will be strengthened, your relationships will be firmly built in the countries and with headquarters, you will have an optimum way in which you work and interact with the countries, and you will enjoy a truly integral and highly motivated communications team.



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The Author

Gail S. Thornton

Gail S. Thornton, founder of Worldview Communications is an accomplished communications executive with global experience in health care, information technology, medical devices and veterinary medicine.

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