We Speak – What Do They Hear?

Board & Advisory services for middle market, technology companies
What is your company saying? What are your customers hearing?
I recently hosted a program for technology companies north of Boston on corporate communications. Too often “corporate communications” is a priority for CEOs and boards only at a moment of crisis or big change -- toxic spill, a lawsuit, or product launch. To be successful today, companies must purposefully manage their communications across a wide spectrum of channels including the press, social media, direct advertising, websites, and internal communications.
On September 13, the natural gas pipelines serving thousands of homes and businesses in communities north of Boston were pressurized far above safety specifications. Gas pipes burst. Over 80 homes caught on fire and one young person was killed. Hundreds of families became homeless. Today, in December, many families are still not able to move back into their homes.

Columbia Gas, owner of the gas pipelines, did not have a communications plan in place outlining what to do when there is an emergency -- who speaks for the company, who must be contacted, who decides what to say, who is the point of contact for the company. Quickly dealing with the emergency on the ground is the top priority. But communicating with the public, government, the press, your employees, the directly affected families, regulators, shareholders, and public safety personnel is also a top priority.

Technology companies, in particular, are often poor communicators. Planning for a crisis is important, but every company, large or small, communicates constantly with its customers, its employees, its investors, and the broader community. The messaging may be intentional or unintentional.
As a leader of your company, here is a simplified check list of questions for your team and yourself.

* Who are your constituencies: customers, investors, staff, community?
* What do you want to say to them?
* What are you saying to them?
* What are they hearing?
* What communication channels are relevant to them?
* Do you have an emergency communications plan in place?
* Who in your company is responsible for managing your communications strategy?
What Am I Communicating?
I hope you saw the relaunch announcement for the Williams Advisory Partners website. The new site is the work product of talented folks working with me over several months. Core questions were “What do I want to say?” and “How do I say that?” Your feedback is welcome.

At a meeting last week, I asked several people if they had gone to the new site. Some had. The most humbling response was from someone I had quoted in a published article. “I like to get your emails because I like your photography.” I may not have gotten an award for the quality of my thinking in her mind, but she likes my photography. At this point, I will take what I can get.

Here is an image from the Monterey Aquarium, CA, taken over Labor Day weekend.
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3 comments on “We Speak – What Do They Hear?”

  1. I completely agree, Rick. Everything said by a company and its employees is assumed to be the message of the company. You can either take charge of it and be strategic or cross your fingers. Crossing your fingers isn’t usually a business strategy of choice. The questions you raise are some of the ones we (communications & marketing execs) look at with the rest of the team as we form a strategy. They’re a solid beginning for exploring who, what and how we should communicate and should be part of every company’s work as they move into the market and public attention.

  2. Hi Rick -- Excellent post! You are spot-on when you ask whether a company has an emergency plan in place. Every company ought to identify the three most likely crises they may face, and their responses to them. And when crisis hits, they must respond quickly. Delay only creates a news vacuum that may be filled with undesirable information. Good luck with the site, both thoughts and great photography! Mike Nikitas, Nikitas Communications

  3. Hi Rick,
    Thanks for this interesting post. One of the often-overlooked resources is the company's own staff. It is vital that the entire staff is sending the same message, and knows what information is confidential that should not be shared. The staff has a powerful voice and a wide audience. Communication starts at home!

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