By Jason MacKenzie FCIPR FCIM,
Managing Partner, Corporate Communications
After MacKenzie* and Jeff divorce, Bill might become the richest person in the world again. With a $96 billion fortune, the chances are we’ll probably never find out if he ever really said:
“If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on PR.”
You’ll hear public relations types quote this carelessly, having regurgitated it after a cursory internet browse. Google** has much to answer for.
The quote is probably apocryphal, but (unsurprisingly) I agree with the sentiment. Corporate communications is a facet of PR – and it’s becoming increasingly important as the grown up, ‘suited’ manifestation of the discipline. It builds awareness, shapes perception and drives return on investment.
Like other aspects of PR, it’s amorphous: far harder to define than the legal profession or accountancy. This blog is an attempt to explain it.
Corporate communications encompasses campaigning and crisis communications; research and reputation management; stakeholder engagement and social media strategies. It uses tactical tools like media relations and content creation, and ensures consistency and cut-through with carefully crafted narratives and incisive implementation. It brings cohesion and consistency, and should be viewed as an investment, not a cost.
Marketing theory is built on ‘four Ps’ – product, price, place and promotion. Corporate communications can also be structured around four ‘Ps’ – proposition, positioning, perception and persuasion.
Identifying what your brand stands for and how it is different from (and superior to) its competitors is the starting point. In an age of unparalleled consumer choice, products and services struggle to differentiate themselves. That’s why it’s essential to identify and accentuate sources of sustainable competitive advantage.
The catalyst for this should be research and insight. The process of engaging with stakeholders to draw out their experiences and perspectives is illuminating. Conducting competitor analysis to identify market opportunities will clarify where your distinctives are found, and what to build your narrative around. Authentic communications doesn’t ‘make stuff up’, as I’ve heard some claim – it amplifies the positive aspects of your proposition.
Thinking rigorously about the audiences you engage with requires discipline, segmentation and targeting. Map out those you want to reach, and marry your proposition to their desires and expectations. Al Ries and Jack Trout are insightful and instructive:
“Positioning starts with a product. A piece of merchandise, a service, a company, an institution, or even a person. Perhaps yourself. But positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect.”
We are more brand aware than we realise. Are you Apple or Android? BA or Virgin? Coke or Pepsi? And so on. We also have subtle brand preferences in the corporate world, based on the position that brands occupy in our minds and hearts.
When structuring corporate communications, never focus on the features of your offering, instead, emphasise the benefits you bring to your clients. Good messaging is not about how great your brand is, it’s about what it can do for your stakeholders. Frank Luntz was right when he observed that:
“It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.”
Corporate communications must shape a proposition, create differentiated and consistent positioning, and change perceptions – but to achieve what? If it gives you influence, great. Influence isn’t an end in itself, we want people to act. Trevor Morris and Simon Goldsworthy nail it:
“Public relations is the planned persuasion of people to behave in ways that further its sponsor’s objectives.”
The internal communications consultant engages and enthuses employees, fostering loyalty. Media relations operators persuade journalists to write or broadcast favourable news or features. Crisis communicators limit damage and protect reputations. Campaigners ensure that their causes prevail and their candidates win.
Likewise, all corporate communications must deliver demonstrable results, change behaviours and impact the bottom line.
Strategy must always precede tactics. Logic is the seedbed for creative magic. Research and insight are as vital as precise campaign delivery and execution. For visionary, ambitious organisations, compelling corporate communications is no longer an optional extra: it builds brands, drives differentiation and delivers growth.
**Other search engines also available