Corporate communicators must 'bulletproof' strategies

The chaos of today's market has created a feeding frenzy of questions that challenge the fundamentals of many business strategies.

The chaos of today's market has created a feeding frenzy of questions that challenge the fundamentals of many business strategies. These questions are broader than those raised in 2000, and can often center on core business strategy.

To be valuable in uncertain times, corporate communicators must guarantee they are serving as the company's “truth meter” if they want to address these questions and restore trust.

Answering questions has always been a key function of corporate communications. But with trust in business down by more than 20% from last year, according to the 2009 Edelman Trust Barometer, corporate communicators must proactively pose tough questions internally, long before they are asked externally. In today's climate, the role of questioner has never been more important.

Corporate communications must provide a level of bulletproofing before new strategies are activated. The role is critical because the margin for error has been erased – neither Wall Street nor Washington is tolerating mistakes. Communicators have an important role to play when strategy refinement and implementation are considered.

Too often we overthink and complicate this role when all that is needed is an honest discussion around three simple questions:

  • What is it? Ask that the service, solution, or change be clearly defined and its purpose made relevant.
  • Who will care? What customer problems will this strategy address? Then replace “customer” with “client” and “stakeholder.”
  • Why now? Is the time right to bring this to market? Why?

Ford Motor Co. is an enterprise that appears to be asking itself the hard questions. Despite negative press, Ford is clearly having the hard conversations internally before discussing its positions publicly. As a result, it has a consistent message from the inside out.

To be clear, communications is not driving business strategy at Ford. Rather, it is helping bulletproof strategy internally before activation and contextualizing decisions and outcomes, grounding them in facts and proof points. It is also engaging stakeholders with answers to their questions at the time of activation and beyond.

Complex times often obscure the obvious. It is time for corporate communicators to ask the right questions, get back to basic Q&As, and help restore the public's trust in business.

Ben Boyd is EVP and director of Edelman's US corporate practice.

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