Monday, July 24, 2006

On Being a Cheerleader

Early in my career, Ben Rosen, a founder of Sevin Rosen Funds, told me that I was essentially a cheerleader for my clients. Because I was young and wanted to feel more important than I perceived a cheerleader to be, I was quite taken aback. But, it turns out, he was right.

Of course, at our firm, we work to add more value in client relationships than merely as cheerleaders (as a matter of fact, on the road to "creating the cheer" we often need to ask a lot of hard questions). But, hopefully, we always work with companies in whom we believe and about whom we can speak positively.

Recently, we had a client ask us to attend its strategic offsite. It was hugely valuable. Of course, understanding a company at its core is a benefit to our efforts. In addition, it added a sense of "esprit de corp" that will prove tremendously beneficial to our client. That sense of commitment and belonging can be gained through great chemistry as well by attending offsites; the key is that working with a client is like a marriage and we all need to like and respect each other. While I know there are other communications firms that feel differently, we try to avoid relationships with clients where we are perceived as simply as a "vendor". If we are going to work with a company to find the best way to communicate its uniqueness and leadership and represent that view to the outside world, we hope to be part of the essential team. And if that enables us to get out our pom poms on our clients' behalf, then it's a good thing.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Your Attention Please, The Prequel

BusinessWeek Online (Rob Hof and Heather Green, July 24, 2006) has done a very important story entitled "Your Attention Please". It encapsulates the changing ways people receive information and how various companies are coming up with approaches to get their attention. Here's an edited excerpt that summarizes the goal of the piece:

"It's not just that media is splintering, as it has been for decades. The difference now is that the Internet is thrusting that trend into overdrive. . . . The result: a serious case of attention deficit for every business that depends on traditional mass media to reach customers."

The story goes on to look at this issue. This story is not only at the heart of media and communications changes happening today -- and thus impacts us rather dramatically -- but it raises a corollary question: "Are there certain inalienable truths about communications that apply, no matter what the medium and its pace?"

I think there are, including:
  • Good communications are about building relationships with the audience. That's why "looking your audience in the eye" literally or virtually is so important.
  • Often that translates to making the communications personal: "why is this important to me?"; and/or making a person the focus of communications.
  • Experience has shown that people need to hear a message three or four times before they start to internalize it.
  • Drama can help tell the story.
And, last, but by no means least:
  • THE MESSAGE MATTERS. Quality is as important as quantity (maybe more so).
There are probably a few more inalienable truths. We can add to these later.

One of the side effects of these truths is that it's possible that some of the older communications tools can have a new life in today's world. In addition to blogs, podcasts, short videos, etc., which communications vehicles from the past can be used in "modern" ways to enhance effectiveness of communications? That's the subject for a future post.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Back to Basics

A friend recently ran into me and said he wanted to get together with me soon because I had been right about a number of things he would experience when he launched his company (one outside our area of expertise). And he just wanted to hear a bit more. This prompted me to step back and realize that this might be the right time to share some basics about communications on this blog. (I have avoided this since the goal of "The High Concept" is not to be promotional but provocative or at least thoughtful.) So, here are some basic lessons we have learned about communications after several decades and working with over 80 companies over the years.

  1. Public relations is the most strategic of communications tools for most companies. As such, it is far more powerful to focus PR efforts on establishing leadership, rather than hype or "ink."
  2. Before you say a word publicly, it's important to have a compelling, differentiated message that is clear and explains simply why what you are doing is important to the market. By the way, coming up with this can take time. It's time well spent.
  3. As part of your messaging process, it's valuable to have a communications "architecture" that will form the foundation of what you want to accomplish over the long term. Of course, as you progress, this will be refined, but it's important to have clear goals.
  4. The launch of your communications is just the beginning of your leadership positioning efforts -- not the end in itself. (As a matter of fact, we believe that companies that get too much attention too early often live to regret it because they can't live up to expectations.)
  5. Every communication is a chance to reinforce and build on your leadership. The architecture I talked about above is your foundation.
  6. Continue to keep up a communications momentum. Systematically and regularly provide more reinforcement of your messages. By the way, it often takes three or more exposures to a message for the market to truly begin to understand them.
  7. Keep your messages simple and consistent. As the momentum builds don't water down your messages by lack of consistency. Note, I recently heard Howard Stringer of Sony talk about the fact that one problem his company has is too many brands and messages. And as such, every time they communicate, they are not reinforcing the same key message. It's not just small, burgeoning companies that need to be focused. Large companies need to do so even more.
  8. Good communications take effort. We believe that executives at the highest levels of companies should focus on and be concerned about them.
I think I will stop here and sometime soon go "Back to Basics" again later and discuss some corollaries to the above and second order lessons we have learned over the years.