The world we knew at the start of 2020 longer exists. Covid has disrupted how we work, live, and learn, and the only certainty about the future is that we’re not returning to the past.
Therefore, it’s the perfect time to disrupt how your company (and how you) communicate.
No, it’s past time, and it’s not an opportunity, it’s a requirement. Your stakeholders require novel approaches, and your management wants better ideas that cost less money.
So, here are 5 ways you could disrupt what you do:
The Gauntlet To Mediocrity
First, blow up your processes. Does your company communicate by committee? It’s common to put communications content through a wringer of brand and marketing types, business leads, subject area experts, and often a very senior exec (or more), each of whom has 1) A different agenda, 2) Limited knowledge of the requirements of your media customers, and 3) About a nanosecond to review your stuff.
Now is the time to challenge that Gauntlet to Mediocrity and tell people the truth, both about the form requirements of your tools — like press releases, for example, they can’t have headlines longer than a few words, and filling exec quotes in press releases with buzzwords about strategy are not only routinely ignored but actually harm your credibility — and the strategic realities of your intent (i.e. participating in public conversations means talking about issues that matter to your customers which, in the press release instance, are media who need blunt ideas and conflict vs. blather from your branding strategy slide presentation).
When your stuff gets challenged, muster the audacity to ask for more clarity on the basis of those comments. Dare to tell your internal stakeholders what can be achieved based on what they’ve given you, not what they abstractly hope for. Add, when your stuff takes more than a day or two to get approved, or gets watered-down, risk telling them that there’s no point in distributing it.
Second, let’s face it: Almost all of the “thought leadership” that we impose on our external stakeholders 1) Isn’t really thoughtful, since it usually parrots the same research, whether you’ve conducted it or bought it from pricey consultants, since every other company is buying and promoting the same content, and therefore 2) Doesn’t really lead on anything.
Thought leadership is about telling people stuff they didn’t know, didn’t want to know, and/or might not agree with. In fact, if you don’t risk pissing someone off with what you publish, it’s likely thought followship.
Imagine if the content attributed to your senior executives challenged conventional wisdom on some topic relevant to your business (or, better yet, relevant to your customers and communities)? These topics should originate in the outside world and not bubble up from the pit of your branding gurus, since it’s rarely going to be about how your company “leads” on so-and-so product or market specifics, nor how your stuff is uniquely suited to answer questions that nobody has asked of you.
Chances are you don’t even know what your execs think about the realities of social justice, artificial intelligence, climate change, or any other topic that your external stakeholders read, write, and care about. Can you say something different or challenging about something? Would it risk putting one of your execs out on a limb, if not actively encourage people to voice their competing opinions? Isn’t it time your stakeholders heard stuff that actually mattered?
Dare To Fail
Third, if you spent any time reviewing the content on most big company websites, you’d think the tide is turning against global climate change, full-time employees are driving miraculous innovation, and smiling, happy people in far-away places are incredibly thankful for corporate largesse.
And then we wonder why people don’t trust us.
How about making a fundamental change in the purpose of your comms, shifting from solely touting successes to sharing ongoing challenges, too? After all, having a corporate “purpose” isn’t about being right all the time, or having solved the problems of the world, but striving toward betterment…a journey that is not linear nor always happy.
So, those stats you provide about your great progress in reducing carbon emissions? Have the honesty to point out that you still generate too much of the stuff and are struggling to innovate ways to capture more of it. What are the thorny aspects of your customers lives that aren’t easily fixed with a charitable contribution or volunteerism from your employees?
Perhaps most importantly, what have you tried that didn’t work as you’d planned, and how have you learned from it? Being right all the time just isn’t credible.
Let Social Grow Up
Fourth, do you remember that generational change-thing that was a big deal before the pandemic struck, specifically as it related to both how you communicated and what tools you used? Many big companies created social teams, or outsourced the activity, and always made sure that they were staffed with Millennials or, better yet, Gen Z types because, well, they genetically just knew how to do whatever needed to be done.
Turns out 1) They aren’t predisposed with an affinity for doing anything in particular, other than being human beings, 2) They’re not the only ones using social media or the social functions of media overall (hint: we all are), and 3) All the made-up processes and measures for their activities via said media are overdue for rehab and should probably get folded back into the org and process norms of your communications overall.
It would disrupt what you put into social channels, how often you did it and, most importantly, what you expected from it. I’m reminded of the transition CRM software made from its introduction as “this thing you have to do” with requirements of faithful obedience, to an integrated component that supported what you already did. Maybe it’s time to let social grow up, too?
Death To Stock Photography
Fifth, and this is an ongoing bugaboo for me, it’s long since past time to stop using generic stock photography in your comms (see social above).
You know the images I’m talking about: Versions of cityscapes crisscrossed with glowing lines intended to say “digital,” people having orgasms while getting something accomplished on their smartphones, and the omnipresent shots of diverse individuals sitting around a table, staring at a whiteboard, or otherwise working together in pixelated harmony.
Who ever told us those pictures communicated anything whatsoever? The idea that we put them on websites, at the top of blogs and press release or, gasp, push them out on social (because people want images…like these?) is laughable.
An image should add value to written content because it communicates something that words couldn’t, or does so in a different or more compelling way. Think how differently you’d approach your visual toolbox if you kept this remit front and center? An imperfect but authentic shot that communicated something real would be far more beneficial to you than a perfect ersatz shot that communicated nothing.
PS, the same goes for your videos which, if they come with even a hint of being corporately-produced, are probably a waste of your money (because they’re a waste of your stakeholders’ time).
There are dozens if not hundreds of other ways you can and should disrupt your communications.
If the ideas scare you, consider this: That changed world I mentioned at the start of this essay? It’s already disrupting what you do, so you might as well lean into the challenge and embrace change. There’s no going back to the way things once were, and practices that presume that they’ve never changed are only going to get more irrelevant going forward.
It could be a glorious opportunity to experiment, have fun, and maybe even succeed!