The future of communications is coordination

There is a huge difference between having a big idea and actually making that big idea a reality.

There is a huge difference between having a big idea and actually making that big idea a reality. In the digital age, the tension between strategy and execution has never been greater. While nearly every company seems to embrace the “big idea” of digital and social media, few do it well. The digital landscape is cluttered with forgotten blogs, Twitter streams run dry, and apps with little engagement. The issue isn't so much a lack of will; it's a lack of skillful integration. As earned and paid media continue to overlap, and as the boundaries of internal silos continue to blur, the complexity required to succeed in digital and social media will only grow.

At last year's Association of National Advertisers conference in Orlando, FL, Cindy Gallop declared that “the future of advertising is production,” meaning the agency of the future will be less about having big ideas – that's the price of entry – and more about ensuring that those big ideas become reality. This wisdom can be applied not only to the future of agencies, but also to the future of business, politics, and society. The future belongs to those who not only can come up with big ideas, but have the ability to produce them.

Yet the notion that the “future is about production” is itself a big idea, something easier said than done. So an addendum to Gallop's statement is in order. If the future is about production, then the key to production is coordination.

Coordination? That's the magic fix? Isn't coordination the responsibility of junior staff members, a few notches above college interns? Well yes, and that's the problem. To win the future with big ideas, organizations will need to coordinate integrally, that is, to consistently connect and integrate smaller, seemingly disparate parts in service of the “whole.” Integral coordination must become an executive skill as essential as critical thinking, strategic insights, and senior counsel.

Take the “big idea” of social networking. While Friendster, MySpace, and Facebook all essentially sprung from the same “big idea,” each company treated the ensuing “smaller ideas” much differently. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg won because his team coordinated and consistently connected seemingly disconnected elements, like server refresh speeds, interface design, and user control of pages into a single, graceful online experience.

The same goes for the role of social media within large companies. Nearly all of us have faced that ubiquitous question: “Where does social media fit within our organization?” While the short-term answer is usually “corporate communications,” “marketing,” or “PR,” the long-term answer is nearly always “everyone.” But again, saying all parts of an organization should be “socialized” is easier said than done. The ability to identify, connect, and unite all the parts — getting stakeholders comfortable with the idea that to evolve, various company divisions must both preserve and transcend their core competencies — requires a level of “coordination” that is undervalued in today's career paths.

So then, what exactly does this new skill set of “integral coordination” look like? It's complicated. But it's a skill set that combines both the “hard knowledge” of products, industries, and management systems with the “soft knowledge” of emotional intelligence, social intelligence, corporate cultures, and overall trends.

Strategists must understand an organization's future growth and profit will increasingly depend on having its various parts and stakeholders — both internal and external — coordinated and connected. Much of this may seem new, and none of this is easy. But to win the future, organizations increasingly need to see integral coordination as key, and truly must believe the whole can be greater than the parts. 

Brad McCormick is EVP, senior digital strategist, and managing director of Cohn & Wolfe's Austin, TX office. He can followed on Twitter at @darbtx.

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