Opinion: Do you know who you are talking to?

An obvious question. Of course you do. But I am struck, time and time again, when government departments, agencies, regulators and others ask MORI to undertake perceptions audits of senior opinion formers and partners.

Few seem to be carefully managing their communications with the most senior people who can do them good or harm.  Nine times out of ten, when we are asked to look at the reputation and perceived effectiveness of a major body, one finds that there has been no systematic thinking about the most senior people that matter to the organisation, with special handling, and account management built in. 

Instead one often finds that the charismatic heads of these organisations spend a good deal of time networking with their contemporaries and other opinion formers, but that the communications team is unaware of their networks and does not leverage them. 

We find that many senior opinion formers know the organisation via drinks with the chief executive and what they read in the trade press, but not from any systematic communication. And so when we ask organisations – "well, who matters?" , one gets either an incredibly long list of generic job titles, or a database of thousands. 

The few impressive performers have thought very carefully both about their influencing strategy, and the people they want to keep on side, how often they lunch them, what they send them and invite them to, and so on.

Do you have an up to date list of the 30 or 100 people who you most need to be close to?  When did your directors last go to lunch with each of these people, or meet them informally?  Do they get hand signed letters with your latest reports and newsletters from your top people?  Do you know who is talking to who?

I appreciate that most readers of this column will by now be thinking about granny and sucking eggs, but unless the organisations MORI is working for are all completely unrepresentative there is much that can be done.  It is soul destroying work keeping contact lists up to date, and all the fancy software that vendors are willing to sell us at great cost makes no difference: garbage in, garbage out.

Buying in lists from providers is also only part of the answer: as you will want to personalize salutations and so on, and every organisation will have a different range of senior people that it wants to communicate with – and some of them will not be the obvious suspects, but part of a network of people who will be influencing the climate of opinion you are operate.  In then end, unless some one reasonably senior, well connected, and obsessive does this for you, you are likely to be missing a trick.  And that may be why so many people do.....

Ben Page is a Director of MORI

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