'We're all spin doctors': How building webs can solve the transparency problem

Connectability is corporate communications' answer to the transparency problem.

It is not news that the digital revolution makes organizations more transparent while at the same time putting them much more at risk, and thus keeping many CCOs up at night wondering what they don’t know. 

The problem is not that comms leaders are excluded from key strategic conversations. Rather, they don’t have good visibility to the more mundane decisions and projects happening across the company that could be disconnected with public perception of corporate culture and narrative. This type of disconnect does not go over well with the digital public.

Connectability is corporate communications’ answer to the transparency problem. It is achieved when communicators are able to link or build webs of diverse stakeholders, programs, and messages to ensure a consistent expression of organizational character throughout enterprise activities.

You could call this web-building the new spin. CCOs and teams who foster this trait will have greater confidence in their ability to know about small, but reputation-relevant, decisions being made throughout the organization, and in their ability to prevent harm to the corporate reputation. And they get more sleep.

Identifying relationships
With its broad view across the enterprise, corporate communications is able to identify relationships between various actions and their ability to affect the broader corporate story. Increasingly CEOs rely on their comms leaders to make these connections, using them to drive greater and broader impact from each investment. CEOs are also relying on their comms leaders to spot and influence business practices and behavior that are inconsistent with organizational character, and could cause reputational harm.

Though this last activity can be sensitive, one CCO I know managed this sensitivity by engaging his C-suite colleagues in a corporate character risk audit. Together, they identified events and actions that had the greatest potential to harm the company’s reputation and were also most likely to occur. This included actions by competitors that could have a spillover impact for the company.

Then, with his C-suite colleagues, the CCO looked at the groups and processes governing areas with the greatest potential reputation risks. The CCO made sure that either comms was part of the governing group or consulted on all key decisions. That way, his team could prevent many issues before they occurred or at least develop more timely and effective mitigation strategies.

Finally he used the output of the reputation audit to refine his team’s social listening efforts. This allowed the comms team to provide more meaningful stakeholder intelligence to colleagues across the organization.

Now that’s connectability, and in that case it was delivered without much change to the organizational model.

However, that is not always the case – we are seeing other companies create new connector roles – like digital strategist with responsibility for working with both corporate comms and marketing – or change their reporting relationships to drive better connection.

For example, this can include uniting disparate public-facing groups under corporate comms. A recent survey of CCOs by the firm Spencer Stuart showed that about a third of them now oversee some marketing in their organizations – and this percentage is slightly higher in b-to-c companies. It is increasingly common to see corporate communications, corporate affairs, marketing and human resources combined in various ways to ensure seamless integration of operations and messaging for important stakeholder groups.

Finally, make sure your team is connected. Now is a good time to check whether your corporate communications team has created the right web within and outside your organization. How strong are relationships within the team – or do you see siloed behavior happening?

Do business partners trust your team and see team members as having a deep understanding of their issues? What about outside stakeholders? Are you successfully linking actions and messaging across your organization where it’s appropriate to create greater impact? Are you able to influence your organization’s actions to stay true to corporate character? 

I guess we’re all spin doctors, after all.

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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