Recent reports suggest that many U.S. organizations have reacted to the recession by cutting budgets and employees in their communications, public relations and public affairs divisions — a decision that stems from a belief, often at the top of an organization, that such areas are non-essential.
Yet during any period of crisis, the opposite is actually true: The greater the crisis, the more vital the need for leaders to engage and communicate with internal and external audiences (employees, shareholders, analysts, consumers, media, opinion leaders, regulatory agencies, governments, and the general public).
Clear, consistent messages promote trust, confidence and loyalty. Perception is a powerful force that can dramatically impact a business bottom line. The leadership of any organization would do well to keep the lines of communication open during any critical decision-making or action-taking process. It’s equally important to relay known facts and decisions as information becomes available.
Experts in marketing and communications point to the benefits of advertising products, sales, money-saving tools and financial services during a recession. One solution to the communication gap — especially for organizations that have already made budget cuts (and those looking to save money)– is outsourcing to firms that specialize in communications and public relations.
Small and independent firms have less overhead, and therefore can offer better prices and personalized service. Corporations that bid on government contracts or receive taxpayer dollars earn incentives and win bids when they work with firms that are certified woman-owned, minority-owned, and disadvantaged businesses (WBEs, MBEs, and DBEs).
The pool of talent in small, independent companies continues to grow as highly skilled professionals with subject-matter expertise strike out their own. And contractors cost less than full-time employees in terms of taxes, training, benefits and resources.
I’ve worked in the field of communications for 18 years, as a print news reporter and editor and a government press aide; as a White House speechwriter and corporate public affairs director of executive communications; and now as a business owner. I have seen the salvationary effect of consistent, honest communication. And I have seen the failure of strategies that call for being forthright only when the law requires people to be.
If outsourcing isn’t a viable option, then deploying strong communicators internally must be the alternative. Organizations must focus today on hiring, promoting and developing talent with communication skills throughout the ranks of both leadership and staff.
It boggles the mind that people place more value on a good pair of shoes than they do on the caliber of their words or the content of their Web sites. A good friend at the White House Writers Group once told me that some leading ladies pay their fashion consultants more than their speechwriters. I marvel about what that says about their priorities. So long as they look good, who cares if they sound good? As long as you’re keeping up appearances, there’s no need to provide much value or substance. Sound familiar? Sound like a few mighty corporations that have fallen of late?
Welcome to the 21st Century. Innovation is reshaping societies and ideas on a global scale, while average folks struggle to make sense of it all. Technology is growing faster than a speeding government, it’s more powerful than a local server; it’s able to leap entire generations in a single bound. What does it mean? It means, simply, that communicating with people matters more than ever. People want relevant, useful information from organizations and leaders they can trust. Organizations must embrace these values — change or lose leadership, employees and audiences. History doesn’t matter. Size doesn’t matter. People with courage, integrity and strong communication skills matter.
A recent report on research, training, and organizational development stated, “As it becomes increasingly difficult to obtain and retain top performers with strong leadership experience, organizations may find their greatest asset — their workforce — in jeopardy.” The report, which included comments from hundreds of HR professionals and line managers from North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Brazil and South Africa, highlighted growing concern about ill-equipped employees who assume higher-level positions due to a lack of available talent. “If businesses continue to ignore the oncoming leadership gap, they may see devastating consequences,” the report warned.
A research scientist who worked on this project said, “Companies should be concerned, because poor leadership can have serious top-to-bottom ripple effects, from employee burnout to under-performance of the entire company.”
Today, those who strive to communicate (which means both listening and talking) will come out ahead of the competition when the country recovers from this economic downturn.
There’s a message in this madness. Are you willing to listen — and deliver?