The muddy waters of corporate communications

The first thing to do before launching a campaign is to deconstruct the buying decision: who wants your goods and services and why

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corporate communicationsTORONTO, Ont. Sept. 13, 2016/ Troy Media/ – Equivocating Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King was asked about the divisive issue of conscription on the eve of the Second World War. French and English Canadians didn’t see eye to eye.

King famously said “Conscription if necessary but not necessarily conscription,” or words to that effect, to reassure French Canadians that even a Yes vote in a plebiscite during the war might not necessarily mean actual conscription.

This is how I feel about the activities of corporate communications departments – communication if necessary, but not necessarily communication. But I mean something much more specific than King did.

To put some value on the work of communications departments, we first need to understand some basic criteria.

What are the goals of the communications department? Surely we are trying to sell goods and services? We might also want to enhance a reputation or engage in a great corporate social responsibility campaign. But everything is secondary to the health of the enterprise.

Based on that, here are some rules to apply as communications staff determine the course of a campaign:

  • Do we really need original research? Are there no peer-reviewed journal articles on the topic we seek to understand? Has no one else faced our market challenges before? If so, let’s conduct research, but let’s also be sure we are building on the thousands of journal articles that already exist.
  • Focus groups are unscientific gab-festivals and a good way to have a snack behind a two-way mirror. They can provide a deep and long conversation, but it might be with people who are telling you what you want to hear.
  • Polling is really expensive – tens of thousands of dollars for reliable national polls. It’s even a $1,000 or so to put your question on a research company’s regular poll.

So what do we do? I would be in a preposterous position if I argued against research. I’m not. I’m just arguing for a certain type, at the right time.

The first thing I want to do before launching a communications campaign is deconstruct the buying decision. Why do people buy? When do they buy? Is that a different time than when they order or decide to buy? Are other people involved in the decision?

Take, for example, a winter vacation in Florida. The item goes on the credit card in November for a December trip. This might spark advertising in October. The advertising might be to credit card holders. But it just might be the teenagers in the family who caused the decision to be made, and they may have been agitating in September when they went back to school. Or they may have been bored during summer holidays in July and started thinking about going to Florida. Or it may have been a family decision the previous cold February when everyone decided they were sick of winters.

So who decides, and helps decide what and when is key.

It’s only after I really understood my customers’ and clients’ decision-making process that I’d think about further research on my reputation. Even then, I’d want to know if there’s already a strong impression about my sector of the economy. If everybody hates a certain sector, it’s going to be hard for me to buck strong impressions.

So before coming to any decision on a communications campaign, go back to first principles: know your goals, sell the goods and services, and – above all else – be sure your course of action is for the betterment of our enterprise’s health.

Troy Media columnist Dr. Allan Bonner has consulted on some of the major planning and public policy issues of our time on five continents over 25 years. He loves cities and his next book will be titled Safer Cities. Allan is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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