As a former journo and editor, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after stepping down as the founding Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. I did know that I had already worked at a publication that I truly loved (and still love), so where would I go next? A different media outlet was a definite no-go, as I couldn’t imagine another medium being as engaging.
That being said, I was admittedly quite wary when I was approached to help KBW Investments build a full circle digital and media footprint. Why? For many reasons that people working in media, digital, marketing and public relations will identify with. I’ve seen both sides of the fence, and as a journo, I experienced the painful inertia of what happens when the sign-off levels are too remote from the actual execution levels.
Turnaround time on your request for a high-resolution image should be less than 24 hours, right? But that’s rarely the case. A retweet or favorite as an acknowledgement of your article should be within the hour, but does that often happen? Not really. The company you so carefully profiled takes three weeks to share the article on its LinkedIn page- despite the fact that you sent the link to them the same day it was out. Even requesting a “quick” quote clarification rarely receives a, well, quick response- and sometimes waiting for it actually delays your print run.
CEOs, if you are wondering why it’s important to hire a solid communications lead, you might want to consider the fatigue and multiple misunderstandings that occur all too regularly in this space. Here are a few things that I feel are barriers to good people joining your corporate comms team:
1. Lack of Awareness
Upper management -c-suite especially- are often very far removed from how and why the internet as a whole (and the best media outlets) seem to prefer some companies and individuals over others. Regarding the lack of internet engagement, it basically boils down to what I refer to as having good or bad internet karma. The resource allocation isn’t there, simply because the executive level is ill-educated about what resources are needed, why they are needed, and why that time and money should even be spent in the first place. Explaining digital monetary spends and how they work is very tiresome when the other party doesn’t want to try and understand. That’s one factor in a myriad of complexity, and there are at least 30 other things that good comms require to make magic happen for your company.
2. Lack of Hard Knowledge
Upper management often have no idea of the amount of true ingenuity, back office work, and time that a strong digital footprint requires. Upper management decides that the cheaper options might be the more sensible route, when all it does is give the company a flat and weak online result. It can often take two to three years, literally, for a digital footprint to start working really well. I’ve done it from the ground up a few times already, and by the time upper management appreciates the effort, I’m usually too jaded to care that they have finally noticed. At that point, your comms person is already fully exhausted from a constant pushback when they have tried to explain the method behind their madness (over and over, and over again). You, as a CEO, need to take a leap of faith here, even if you don’t understand how exactly it works. The more bold option would be to actually ask how it will work, and then decide based on the information your comms person is sharing.
3. Different Metrics
Management is also often completely disconnected from the idea that the ROI on things like content marketing, digital footprint (including social media) and articles, isn’t measured in direct sales. (I won’t get started on conversion rates, as that’s a whole other ballgame.) The goal here is basically ensuring that the right information is widely available and accessible, sourceable, shareable, clear and interesting, and allows you to own your brand’s story. That’s the measurement! Owning the brand story is one aspect of your ROI! For the executives reading this, here’s an example you can relate to: one of KBW’s key portfolio companies is a crane manufacturer. Now, when someone is looking to spend a quarter of a million dollars on a heavy machine, a tweet or an Instagram post about a Raimondi crane isn’t going to close the sale. But, it is going to keep that company top of mind. And that’s what is really hard to explain to people who aren’t connected to the reality of corporate comms: the ROI is simply about penetrating the public consciousness, reaching your target market, sharing your brand story, imparting crucial information, and much more. All these things eventually translate into dollars, but you need to be patient.
4. Communication Silos
Many companies have severe and crippling communications lags due to engaging several different agencies for things like advertising, digital presence, public relations, and marketing. Sometimes it’s a result of a combination of outsourcing and in-house execution, and sometimes it isn’t. If you have one unlucky person tasked with managing the inherited melee of agencies and activations that preceded their appointment, by the time they join the company you’ve got a very confusing portfolio that will take months (or years) to get sorted out properly. When your communication presence is being managed by several different entities that demonstrate difficulty working in cohesion, you get a mishmash of results that can be best described as ineffective and fragmented. Your new comms person comes in, and by this time the company has already spent tons of cash. Unfortunately, that expenditure has convinced you that none of it “worked.” None of it “worked” because it wasn’t synergistic and objective-oriented, with each comms segment/channel operating in silo mode.
I was convinced that I could add value in the role KBW was offering me because when I explained the ROI issues, the silo strategies, and the absolute stalemate that journos often felt when dealing with communications people for simple requests, the Chairman and the Group CEO got it. They genuinely understood the issues (including the metrics), and it helps that they are both switched-on people. As a CEO, you should spend the money on bringing a strong comms person in-house: it really does pay for itself. And when you do, consider what type of mess the person has inherited before they can do their best work. It might take years to pay off, but many other types of investments do too. Your human capital investment shouldn’t be expected to pay off any sooner.