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By: Paul Raab, APR

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Oct 15, 2014 | Linhart Blog, Our Business

Speak No Evil? Communications Strategy in the 21st Century

For many companies, developing and implementing effective communications strategies seems increasingly fraught with peril – and understandably so.  Corporations and their leaders often find themselves in a harsh public spotlight.  The news media can appear hostile to business interests.  And social media platforms increase the risk of unplanned visibility and reduce the illusion of control over corporate reputation.

Earlier this week, I was part of a panel discussion on corporate communications at the Denver office of Holland & Hart, a multi-office law firm with more than 470 attorneys and 15 offices across the Mountain West and in Washington, D.C. Fellow panelists included Rosslyn Elliott, vice president of public affairs and investor relations at DCP Midstream LLC, Denver’s largest oil and gas company and largest private company; and Arthur Hodges, senior vice president for corporate communications at CoBank, a national cooperative bank serving rural communities across America as a member of the Farm Credit System.  Amos Barclay, of counsel at Holland & Hart, facilitated.

Hot topics included managing the communication process and ensuring alignment on strategy and messaging; addressing crisis situations effectively; and understanding the impact of social media.  For me, a few key themes emerged:

  • The “north star” for corporate communications strategy must be the underlying business objectives – whether those are to build or maintain investor confidence; attract and retain talented employees; influence public opinion on policy matters; or to build a brand.
  • Messages that resonate with one stakeholder group may not resonate with another – for example, an investor-owned utility with consistently high rates of return for shareholders may find that message unhelpful with ratepayers and regulators.
  • Because the audience for traditional media continues to shrink compared with historic norms, and because Americans’ trust in the news media is at an all-time low, it’s important to consider other ways of reaching and engaging with stakeholders and telling your story, including social and digital media, events and even paid advertising.
  • That said, the news media continue to have influence, especially as it relates to investor-oriented communications, and they will cover your company whether you participate or not; best to have relationships with key journalists based on being accessible and credible.
  • Companies see the best results when communicators and the legal team collaborate rather than engage in turf wars; both disciplines are about advocacy and making a case based on facts, and both should advise management on equal footing.
  • Social media has changed the game; all companies should be sure to “own” their social media channels, vs. having a bad actor reserve a company’s Twitter handle, for example; and all should monitor the conversation, at a minimum, to ensure things said online have no adverse or unexpected consequences offline.

What are your thoughts on how corporate communications strategy should evolve?  Please Tweet your views to us: @linhartpr or @praab.

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