Communications Directors lead the charge in telling the stories and shaping the perceptions of their organisations, whether they are highly visible giving a White House briefing or operating in the background advising a tech CEO before they take the stage.
Always busy, they have little time to reflect on the big issues that impact their role and network with their peers. This is why Propeller Group set up Comms Club and put together The Big Issues events, created ‘for PR people, by PR people, starring PR people’.
The inaugural Big Issues event was a huge success with PR and Comms Directors signing up to watch a packed afternoon of relevant content. The debates ranged from whether companies can communicate both purpose and profit without a disconnect or confusion to the levers to pull to get the boardroom to take PR seriously and understand its value to the business.
‘Check your currency’
Contributing to the debate about how consumers want to see the companies behind their favourite brands doing good in the world and taking stance were Anna Lungley, Chief Sustainability Officer, Dentsu Global and Julian McBride, Global Media Relations and Communications, Accenture Interactive, while Propeller’s US Vice President Mary Cirincione steered the discussion.
McBride stressed that brands need to pause before taking a public position “to check their currency” – their relevance to the issue or debate. They need to pressure test the message they might be crafting with as diverse a group of internal stakeholders as feasible and to make sure they know what they want their desired outcome to be.
Lungley said brands have to try and be future thinking and understand the role they can play in a future society – if they can place themselves in the minds of their consumers, they can make themselves more relevant and “drive new spaces for growth.”
Creating C‑suite connections
Persuading the boardroom to make PR a priority and listen to advice can be a struggle. To discuss stakeholder management Propeller Group Director, Clients & Strategy Rose Bentley brought together Cristina Macina, Corporate Affairs Director, Nestlé UK & Ireland and LaShonda Eaddy, Ph.D, Assistant Professor, Public Relations, Penn State University.
Macina stressed that it was important to build supporters and advocates ahead of taking a certain point or proposition to the board – Comms Directors need to lay the groundwork and build connections within the C‑suite for buy in when needed. Eaddy added that respect will be gained by giving a considered assessment of whether it’s appropriate “to go into full crisis mode”. The proverbial building may not be on fire and the issue may well be an operational or customer service issue.
Leading the charge
Propeller founder and Chairman Martin Loat led a session on the importance of crafting a leadership persona and compelling narrative for your company. The panel featured business founders including Jason Kingsley OBE, Co-founder of Rebellion Games and trustee of her Majesty’s Royal Armouries, Tamara Littleton, CEO and Founder, The Social Element, and James Vincent, CEO of FNDR and former ‘Apple ad guru’ who worked directly with Steve Jobs.
Kingsley, who has a second career as an expert on medieval history and warfare and has thousands of followers for his YouTube channel, said founders or CEOs who cultivate a particular interest or trait for the public gaze had to ensure it was authentic as the public can “smell a fake.” Littleton stressed that the business should not be “all about me” and that it was important that companies had several people with their own opinions and profiles.
Vincent added that leaders and their organisations needed to recognise there will come a moment when they have to show some humility and this can be very beneficial to reputation.
In the eye of the storm
The event wrapped with a compelling account of what it was like to be in the media spotlight from Eric Schultz, former Deputy White House Press Secretary under President Obama and founder of The Schultz Group. A highly experienced comms professional, Eric shared advice for how to handle a crisis and anecdotes from his career with Propeller Director of Media and Partnerships Ben Titchmarsh.
His key advice for handling a crisis? “When there’s a crisis be the adult in the room. Things will be moving so fast and vigorously and a lot of the information can be chaotic and unverified but you want to be seen as credible, empathetic and transparent. Moment starts to get swept up in the swirl you run the risk of losing your stature in the middle of a story. Being the calm adult in the room in the midst of chaotic frenzy will serve you well.”
Check out in-depth individual reports on each of the sessions and look out for highlight clips on the Comms Club website and social channels. These sessions are just the starting point for the Comms Club community. Join in with the big conversations around comms by signing up here.