Achieving excellence in a large organization

The communications chief needs to systematically identify, enlist, and maintain multiple leadership constituencies who feel vested in the program and are identified with its success.

In previous blogs, I focused on early efforts to establish and launch a breakthrough communications program within big organizations resistant to risk and innovation. In this final blog, I focus on alliance building and maintaining support.

The communications chief needs to systematically identify, enlist, and maintain multiple leadership constituencies who feel vested in the program and are identified with its success. That might be the CEO and a few key divisions, or the admissions and fundraising departments and the alumni leadership at a major university.

At the University of California, Los Angeles, I launched to media acclaim a bold and expensive national image campaign unusual for a public university in a budget crisis. It was strategically sound, but it could have imploded amid criticism of the timing and cost. However, we built the creative around the voices of major donors, elected officials, alumni, and faculty who believed in UCLA.

That brought along UCLA's powerful fundraising arm. It brought along the deans whose schools benefitted from the exposure. It advanced the advocacy unit's goals, and excited influential alumni and faculty. Each group helped to enlist support and shape the effort. Ultimately, criticism was muted and faded quickly.

I like to have at least three key constituencies in active partnership at any one time. The influence of communications is amplified through partnerships, and the voices and resources that come with them. It retracts without multiple supporters, leaving a vacuum for critics.

It is important to have the CEO in that mix as a supporter. But that isn't enough. If you're too closely identified with the CEO, that can cause its own problems. And, you don't want the CEO spending much time using chits to defend your efforts. 

Finally, stay vigilant. Organizations are fluid. Priorities and personnel change. It is precisely during waves of success that you need to pause, assess your environment, and anticipate change and the need to adjust course.

In some cases, you must also be ready to leave when organizational dynamics preclude standout work. But by creating a bold communications culture, rooted in research, with cultivated support and monitoring for change, you can change the world one campaign at a time.

Lawrence Lokman is principal of Lawrence H. Lokman Strategic Communications. He has worked in senior communications positions within and as counsel to major nonprofit, government, and industry organizations.

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