In our crisis training courses we say that refusing to communicate is almost certainly a mistake – if you won’t give out any information, you can’t be surprised if people think the worst. But of course it’s not just in the bad times that you should be reaching out to your stakeholders; doing so in the good times makes it clear that you are open for business and looking to develop a dialogue with your audience.
Nowadays there are a huge number of ways organisations can keep in touch with people – the Church of England even released guidelines for the use of social media this month – but it will take some time to select the right channels for you, whether that’s online or offline. The majority of our courses focus on media and presentation skills training and while plenty of businesses still spend fortunes on advertising, using your key spokespeople to get out there and engage with the audience is probably going to be far more cost effective and hopefully be more impactful too. We wouldn’t suggest rushing in to this type of ‘marketing’ though, and carefully planning, hopefully with your public relations or external communications advisors will help ensure that when your organisation is out there, meeting and greeting, it will be with the right messages and in the right way.
There are plenty of examples of people and organisations who didn’t look before they leapt and as a result they ended up in a reputational crisis – even poor old Gerald Ratner probably still wishes he had thought a bit more carefully about the speech he gave at the IOD conference all those years ago. He was recently quoted as saying; “I’m even studied at universities and schools for being the biggest corporate blunder of all time… What I did was completely stupid”. Ratner’s mistake was disastrous but could have been so easily avoided if he’d just taken a little time to consider what he should be communicating (and who was going to be listening to the speech).
Getting training before talking to the media or even making a presentation is going to be time, and money, well spent but there’s a reasonable amount of planning that an organisation needs to do, even before the training takes place.
- Firstly, you have to clarify who you want to talk to – you should know who your stakeholders are but ensure you are certain of all the different groups who have a vested interest in you.
- Secondly, you have to decide what you want to say to these groups; don’t forget that your customers will expect different messages than your staff or shareholders.
- Thirdly, you have to keep it up – once you start you need to commit to maintaining a dialogue (hopefully two-way) for the long term – this is not a tap you can turn on and off.
If you don’t communicate with those who are most important to you, you can’t expect much in return – do some careful planning and then get out there and start talking – what’s the worst that can happen!
Written by Will Edwards – www.bluewoodtraining.co.uk – January 2014