Can your comms team predict the future? Because your CEO demands it

CEOs want the ability to see into the future from their communications advisers - to anticipate actions that have the potential to cause a corporate crisis.

Tom Cruise in Minority Report
Tom Cruise in Minority Report

Remember the movie Minority Report with Tom Cruise as part of a futuristic police unit that arrests criminals before they commit their crimes? Well, it’s not 2054 yet, but CEOs want the ability to see into the future from their communications advisers – to anticipate actions that have the potential to cause a corporate crisis.

Today, it’s considered good practice for communications teams to use data to develop crisis response strategies. High-performing units measure the attitudes of various stakeholders in new and integrated ways, combining everything from digital listening to call-center volume to produce a holistic view of conversation in both normal and crisis times. These heat maps allow communicators to offer grounded counsel about if, when, and how to act as challenges emerge. 

However, more and more CEOs want communicators to be visionaries – to leverage data to predict and proactively act on reputation opportunities and threats. This is not something we talked about 20 or even 10 years ago, yet it is critical to our perceived value as a function.

We should be able to gather and analyze data about our stakeholders and influencers to understand which relationships we need to cultivate and how, when, and why to do so in order to strengthen reputation. And we should be helping to shape decisions about corporate strategy, products, policies, and practices that may affect stakeholder trust and willingness to help the company achieve its business objectives over time.

I know a few communications teams that do this especially well, Chevron and Disney, for example. They are pioneering the use of social data to provide visionary counsel.

It is easy, but dangerous, to be stuck in the needs of today – the needs of your client or the press event tomorrow. Everyone in the function, especially CCOs, should be regularly checking the health and value of their organization, asking are we still meeting not just internal but industry standards of high-performance? Are we meeting not just the standards for today, but also the standards for tomorrow?

To know whether your team has the visionary capability to meet tomorrow’s expectations from a CEO, consider the following:

Are you doing the right things to be visionary? For example, digital listening, influencer mapping, and managing stakeholder relations beyond traditional media relations.

Second, does your team understand predictive activity to be a core value? Many communications functions are struggling to transition to new ways of providing value. It is important your team understands the strategic direction and potential impact of these new capabilities.

Third, do your business partners see your team as visionary? Even if you are doing the right things to be predictive, you may not be applying your power to areas that will provide the most impact to the business.

It may be necessary to invest in research to fully understand perceptions inside and outside the function, and in a change program to design the future of your support for the business.

Assessing and building visionary capability is vitally important, but you should also explore other drivers of high performance to understand whether there is a need for evolution – or revolution – in the way you are operating as a function.

Now is a time of change for communications and we all must be equipped to understand why, when, and how much change is needed.

Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a digital and management consulting firm. He can be reached at bfeldman@pulsepointgroup.com. His column focuses on management of the corporate communications function.

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