On the road to comms consistency

Establishing a consistent and clear communications platform for a professional services firm can be elusive.

Establishing a consistent and clear communications platform for a professional services firm can be elusive. After all, there are generally no tangible products to sell, no product attributes to tout, and no fancy packaging to convey the message. In fact, it would be hard for the average client to differentiate the services offered by most PR firms, accounting firms, or executive recruiters.

At their core, though, these firms do have their own brands, and their employees and clients have a distinct perception about the unique value that each of these organizations offer. But without strongly differentiated products to represent each company, these brands are principally formed by the professionals that represent them. It is the men and women interacting with clients, telling the company's story, and delivering on the promises made that form the identity of an organization.

The job of the brand steward or chief communications officer is to ensure that the value proposition is being communicated accurately and consistently - no small feat when you are dealing with professional services pros who tend to be both consultative and creative.

Experience has shown that by following three basic rules, the communications department can dramatically increase consistency and effectiveness within its corporate messaging.

Rule 1: Buy-in is everything. There is no doubt that too many cooks spoil the soup, but creating the message platform at corporate headquarters is a recipe for disaster. The best messaging platforms are created with input from all critical stakeholders.

Be sure to share your platform with colleagues from various business units. They naturally will have different perspectives and priorities, but underlying personal agendas, organizational trends, and themes will emerge that should be developed as the backbone for the messaging framework.

Rule 2: Allow for local customization. In regards to communicating, one size does not fit all. A good messaging platform provides the anchor tenants for an organization's offerings, core values, and competitive differentiators, but is flexible enough to allow local offices to personalize the message. Companies run a risk by mandating communications too literally.

A few years ago, Korn/Ferry was rolling out a new messaging campaign around the recruitment and development of executive talent. We decided on the theme "Corporate DNA." During the exploration process, we found out that in Germany, the term DNA is used for forensic homicide investigations. Clearly this was not the direction we wanted. Rather than scrap the campaign, we created an alternate approach that worked in Germany and the effort was saved.

Rule 3: Enlist evangelists throughout the organization. Every organization has key influencers - well-respected employees who help drive popular opinion and influence company culture. Recruiting these people as ambassadors for your message is a smart way to spread the word. Not only is their input invaluable, but having them on-board to disseminate the message will enhance adoption throughout the company.

Mike Distefano is CMO of Korn/Ferry International.

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