27/08/14

By Julia Meighan, Executive Chairman, VMA Group


In today’s business world, having a well thought-out communications strategy – with a clear and consistent brand message – is vital to corporate success. Yet, with the proliferation of communications channels, it’s becoming more difficult for business owners to control that message. It seems that not a week goes by without a new social media platform being introduced – from Pinterest to Google + – all of which pose unique challenges and opportunities for an organisation.

Meanwhile, the more established communication channels – from websites through to face-to-face events – can still have a valid place in getting your message across to your target audiences, so it’s vital not to ignore them. The temptation for those at the helm – particularly if they have only a scant grasp of social media - can be to employ specialist expertise in order to manage each individual channel. Before you know it, you have a communications team which includes a website manager, an events expert and a social media guru. Yet, is this really the best approach to guarantee one clear and definitive brand voice? The answer is most definitely ‘no’.

While this tactic has worked to a point, savvy businesses are coming round to a new way of organising their communications teams. Rather than a platform specialist responsible for each individual channel, forward-thinking organisations are allocating communications responsibility by message instead. This means having a team that oversees one specific area – such as crisis management or employee engagement – across all channels, rather than just one. Not only does this approach ensure your message comes from a team that specialises in that area, but it also optimises the chances of that message being synchronised across all channels.

A ‘message led’ communications team lends itself to a greater understanding of business objectives and what an organisation is trying to say, rather than the workings of a particular social media network. This was reflected in VMA Group’s recent Business Leaders in Communications Strategy (BLCS) report, where 49% of corporate leaders said they considered business acumen to be one of the key skills in communications professionals, almost double the number who valued social media and digital skills (27%). Clearly, then, employing communications experts with strong business acumen will, in turn, ensure that the content they generate is focused on meeting your business’s objectives in a consistent and compelling way.

So, as a company, how should you go about recruiting professionals with a strategic insight into your brand and its message?

With so many ‘platform specialists’ these days, admittedly it can be more of challenge to find messaging experts, meaning you may need to think differently.
One approach is to seek out individuals from new areas; perhaps those with business experience which is relevant to the messages you are seeking to deliver. For example, if one of the aims of your organisation is to position itself as an employer of choice, you may look for a person from an HR background with a good understanding of employee engagement. Likewise, if your company operates in an industry which comes under regular scrutiny or criticism, your main concern may be protecting and defending your brand, in which case an individual with crisis handling skills, irrespective of industry experience, can really get to grips with the issues at hand.

Another important factor to consider when hiring for your communications team should be a person’s ability to influence key stakeholders. This was also highlighted in the BLCS report, with 85% of business leaders stating that they valued the ability to ‘articulate and influence’ as vital to the modern communications professional, making it the most highly valued skill. Industry knowledge and understanding, together with gravitas are important and are essential if you really want your audiences to stand up and take note of what your brand is saying.

So, if you’re a business owner looking to improve your company’s communications strategy, perhaps the time has come to re-evaluate, focus less on mastering the platform and get back the real issue at hand – the message.