2017 was an interesting year for most companies with regards to corporate communication. New trends emerged as communication professionals worked around the clock to prudently manage their firm’s reputation and ensure that their stakeholders connect emotionally to their brands. However, for other brands, 2017 wasn’t all joyous because of some occurrences – errors, manmade disasters, et cetera – threatened their brand equity. An example is when fire engulfed Coconut Grove Regency Hotel in Accra last year or when rainstorm ripped apart the roof of Elmina Sharks Football Club’s stadium. Both brands are owned by Group Nduom (GN) and the organization must be given credit for carefully managing communication during those incidents. Other examples that come to mind are negative reportage about MenzGold, UT Bank, Capital Bank, Zoomlion and many others which could have negatively affected their brand. Indeed in certain cases apart from the organization in trouble, stakeholders such as staff, shareholders and even Government Agencies like industry regulators could also suffer reputational damage. These and many more are the reasons why corporate communication plays a vital role in any organization.
However today I will be discussing 10 core practices communication professionals can undertake to help them carry out their job productively. This article is specifically tailored to young professionals starting a career in corporate communication. These tips do not have any order of preference hence they can be applied in any order.
- Read about the industry…. Yes sit down and learn everything about the industry/market before you start work
This might seem obvious but I have realised that many people especially new entrants do not actually do this. It is extremely important that you learn everything about the industry both technical and non-technical because it will help you in many ways. An example will be if you are appointed as the official spokesperson as part of your new role, you will not be found wanting because you have a strong foundation hence making you very confident when you speak. Furthermore, it will help you in developing your communication strategy, something we will be talking about shortly.
- Check whether your new organization has a communication strategy. If none exists, develop one
It is not new that most Ghanaian firms especially those who fall within the Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) category do not have a communication strategy. I have also seen large firms and public sector institutions without a communication strategy. My intention is not to make anyone have a sinking feeling but I have to share this. At one point a CEO made it clear to me that because his firm controls only small market share he doesn’t see the need for them to develop and implement a communication strategy. This was followed by a sentence I have heard a couple of times, “we don’t want to expose ourselves too much”. Sadly this Chief Executive doesn’t know that developing and implementing a communication strategy will help his firm in many ways. As you start your new role, check whether such document exists, if it does go through it and amend it if necessary. Also check and evaluate what has been implemented in order for you to know what worked and what didn’t. If such document does not exist then you have to develop one. Don’t worry you are not on your own, there are good consultants and companies who can help you develop a comprehensive document. Yes! I know sometimes your immediate boss or CEO can be hard-nosed but find a way to break things down to him or her.
- Evaluate the level of internal & external communication of your firm
A communication strategy will identify all the necessary elements needed for you to communicate your company’s activities effectively and will even instruct you to do this but I have added this to the list because of its importance. Try and find out the level of communication, both internally and externally, that has been done in the past and how it was carried out. If it’s a new company, what you can do is to extend this activity to the entire industry/market, evaluate how competitors carry out their communication activities.
Indeed you also want to know how your company communicates to its various stakeholder be it shareholders, strategic partners, staff, clients, media, Government regulators, Associations, et cetera. This is important because you must communicate precisely to each of your stakeholders and also you must turn your internal stakeholders into brand ambassadors’, who will preach the good works your company is doing – this takes time and conscious efforts and you must implement some protocols to guide what they can say and not say.
Another thing you can also do is something I call a reputation value report where you figure out how stakeholders perceive your organization. Do they perceive the organization positively or negatively? What about media coverage? What has the media said about the company? You will have to evaluate publications in both old and new media channels to have an idea of how your organization has been covered in the media landscape.
- Think about the structure of your department
To be effective, you need to have a team behind you. Maybe your organization is practising what I call “one man PRO”. If indeed that’s the case, you have to again talk to your boss about it because you need a team to work with – your organization can contract a PR Agency if they don’t want to directly hire anyone.
In any case, you must structure your department such that you cover every aspect of the work – Public Relations, Client Service, Community Engagement, External/Government Relations and sometimes Protocol. This is however dependent upon the size of your organization, the industry it operates in and the seriousness of management to incorporate corporate communications into the organization’s organogram.
- Build a fruitful relationship with the media
The media is one of your key stakeholders and it is extremely important you have journalists on your side. What I mean by having journalists on your side is having a good working relationship with them. As the old adage goes, success or worth depends on your network or contacts. Personally, some journalists and news editors I have worked with over the years have become some of my closest friends. We have a cordial working relationship and learn from each other. Others also go beyond work; we are more like a family. As a communication professional never underestimate the power of the media (both old and new media) because they can make you or break you. You can start by identifying media houses you want to work with and build your press correspondents. Implement some protocols such as the first port of call, how communication will be done, et cetera. There is more to this and I will discuss media management in another article but at least you get the idea.
There are many materials on branding and the topic has been covered extensively so I will not talk much about it but I guess you are probably aware that branding is more than just a logo, tagline and colours right? Yes it is! It is more about who you are? What you do? How you do it? Who needs to know? How will they find out? Why they should care?
Alina Wheeler, an expert in branding makes a good argument that, “as competition creates infinite choices, companies look for ways to connect emotionally with customers, become irreplaceable, and creates lifelong relationships. A strong brand stands out in a densely crowded marketplace. People fall in love with brands, trust them, and believe in their superiority. How a brand is perceived affects its success, regardless of whether it’s a start-up, a non-profit, or a product.”
Now you get the idea right? To do so effectively, you need to have a strategy or a plan to follow. There are communication consultants who will help you create a compelling brand.
- Issues, Risks and Crisis Management
It is important to be proactive in this area. Issues, risks and crisis management do not only lie in the realm of the corporate communication department but rather every department in the organization must be involved. First and foremost, the organization must create a steering group to deal with issues, risks and crisis. The steering group needs to perform an audit to identify past; current and potential issues, risks and crisis that might have a negative impact on the organization hence making stakeholders perceive you in a negative way. The second step is for the steering group to identify the corporate and brand position on each listed item as well detailing processes for response. You then put a plan together to ensure that your organization has an unblemished, concrete structure for responding to any negative or problematic issues that may affect the organization’s brand negatively. There are more to it and I will talk more about it in another article but for now I think you get the idea.
- Don’t ignore NEW MEDIA
Don’t forget to include online outlets such as social media, blogs, online news outlets, web tools, email, multimedia, mobile apps, et cetera in your communication strategy. These and more are often categorized as new media. Kindly note that new media is as important as old media (radio, television and print) and more over it is highly interactive. In an article titled “What is New Media?” published on Southeastern University’s online portal, indicates that new media is highly interactive while mass media is not. The writer also indicated that “users of new media are active producers of content and information, whether sending an email or using internet collaboration tools”. Furthermore, a report by Cliqafrica and Avance media titled “The 2016 Annual Ghana Social Media Report” indicates that there is a change in behavioural patterns of human activities from the traditional lifestyle to spending most time on social media of which Facebook is the largest. The report also puts interesting figures out, such as over 7.9 million of the Ghanaian population can be found online (28.4% penetration) ranking Ghana the 47th highest internet user base globally. The report further states that Ghanaians spend not less than 3 hours 30 minutes surfing the internet on their phones, out of which majority of it is spent on social media. The National Communication Authority (NCA) in a publication on their website titled “Mobile Data Figures for the Month of July 2015” pointed out that as at the end of July 2015, the total number of mobile data subscribers were approximately 16.8 million representing 62.07% penetration rate.
There are more interesting statistics but at least you have an idea as to why new media is important.
- Develop a yearly work plan
Again this will be part of your communication strategy but it is of utmost importance that at the beginning of every year, you develop a work plan that outlines programmes you intend to implement. These programmes should have objectives, targets for every quarter, target for the year, indicators, how each activity will be verified, implementing team members, budget and funding source, risk/challenges and how those risks/challenges will be mitigated. It is also important to have a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) plan attached to your work plan because you need to know what is working and what isn’t so you adjust your plan as you progress. You can engage an M&E expert to develop a plan for you.
- Develop Yourself
There is a saying that goes something like this: “staying the same means going backwards” because everything and everyone around you is progressing. New trends are emerging, new tools are being developed, your industry is changing at a fast pace hence it is very important that you commit to endless progress. Always learn new skills, read more, avoid being in your comfort zone, live a healthy life, gather information, attend seminars, have a mentor, et cetera. This is vital!
In conclusion, always remember that as a communication professional one of your upmost responsibilities is to prudently manage the reputation of your organization. Your stakeholders perceive you in any way that seems fit for them. Things will happen that can damage your firm’s reputation. Fortunately you can do something about that by implementing some of the things I have shared with you. I believe this article will help you be on top of your game. I wish you well in your endeavours. Stay informed!
The writer specializes in Reputation Management and he is a Communication Specialist at the Ministry of Energy. He is an entrepreneur and the franchise licensee of London School of Public Relations (LSPR) in Ghana. He can be contacted via [email protected]