Outside-In: Why Your Organization Needs An External Comms Team
It’s hard to see ourselves from the outside. As much as we try to think about how other people see us, interpret us, and receive us, it’s nearly impossible to get a more “objective” view of ourselves. The same is true for our organizations, and it is especially true for our communications.
When it comes to achieving business goals, anyone familiar with Audacia’s work knows our stance: communication is everything. To make the case for an external communications team is to make the case for better communications.
Many organizations say that they are committed to radical honesty about their strengths and weaknesses. While they might mean it, organizations don’t always have the bandwidth to systematically assess what’s working and what’s not. An external firm can take on Voice of the Customer or Voice of the Employee, speak truth to power about market positioning, and work across organizational silos. For these reasons and more, your firm should consider how an external team could elevate communications across the organization.
The Case Against Hiring an External Communications Team
People get sideways when they think about investing in communications. I hear leaders say, “I communicate all day long — why do I need to have a specialist for this? I can spew thousands of words before my second cup of coffee. What could an external team do for me that I can’t do on my own?” But there’s a huge difference between speaking and communicating.
When leaders argue against hiring an external communications team, there are usually three things they are not seeing. First, effective change – whether it’s a growth mandate, an acquisition, or a massive strategic pivot – requires time, money, and emotional energy. Without an on-point strategy to engage your stakeholders, you’re leaving potential value on the table, at best. At worst, you’re potentially losing trust with your most important stakeholders. So the real question is can you afford not to communicate well?
Second, while your internal team is undoubtedly great at what they do, they may not have the experience needed to seal a crucial deal. When taking on big initiatives, bringing in a team that’s “been there, done that,” knows best practices like the back of their hands, and can steer you around the common pitfalls is invaluable.
Third, we can’t see what we can’t see. Just as people hire coaches to see some of the problems (and solutions) they may not be able to see in their own life, organizations that are committed to their company’s culture, progress, and perception hire external communications advisors.
The Case for Hiring an External Communications Team
So, we can’t see ourselves from the outside, and at the same time, we have big goals for our companies. We want to reach new audiences and benchmarks, retain our best team members, and prove we’re worth investing in. How can external communications help us do this?
1. Communication has legs
Communicating isn’t just about having a strategy. It’s about being intentional about what you are saying, to whom, when, and how it is received by other parties.
An external communications team can help you be aware of your stakeholders. What are the conversations you want to have, and with whom? What is the outcome you’re driving toward? Great communications is about being proactive and in shaping the conversation, rather than letting others take the lead. When you have control over your message and can anticipate where the conversation might lead, you have a distinct advantage.
2. It’s not just what you say — it’s where you say it
We recently worked with a client who had several executive transitions across the C-suite. They consulted us about how to have a smooth transition and how to maintain the trust of their employees and investors in the process.
We advised them — in the middle of lockdown — to provide ample opportunities for new executives to talk about who they are and what they value. They offered small group Zoom calls, email, newsletter, and 30-minute coffee talks as opportunities for executives to share about themselves and hear the perspective of employees, investors, stakeholders, and community partners.
Open channels for feedback — especially when facilitated by a third-party (for example using Voice of the Customer or Voice of the Employee studies) — can facilitate the honesty necessary to craft communications tailored to your audiences. Further, effective communication can ensure your message is preserved when talk goes beyond your direct stakeholders.
3. Moving the organization forward
Strategic communication is about finding ways to move your organization forward. This is hard to do. Without a plan, you’re Elon Musk and no one knows what you stand for. When building and maintaining relationships, you don’t want your stakeholders to be confused about who you are. One of the most important things any organization can do is figure out who they are and how to communicate that to the world.
We recently wrapped up a project with a highly-acquisitive company trying to find — and communicate — their special sauce following numerous acquisitions. Audacia Strategies interviewed 35 employees across the company and read their customer reviews — the good, bad, and the indifferent. We analyzed their market, their aspirational peers, and identified opportunities to authentically differentiate and grab the attention of the market.
Audacia helped this company coalesce around a forward-looking and exciting message. When we presented our recommendations to the executive team and then to their business development team, the room was riveted.
Employees were excited to give their elevator pitch. The pitch was authentic because it came from them and from what they were hearing from customers already. An external perspective helps your organization generate energy and excitement about who you are and what you do. That energy is contagious.
The same way that a good coach can help you get an objective perspective on the different aspects of your life, an external communications team can help you more thoroughly anticipate the impact of what you say. While you might know your organization inside-and-out, you’re immersed in the culture. As the saying goes, fish don’t know they’re in water. An external communications team can help you see the bigger picture.
Contrary to what some may believe, strategic communications is not just for communicating during a crisis. It’s about starting at the outcome and reverse engineering how to get there. It’s about asking:
- What do we want to happen?
- What do we want our stakeholders to think?
- How do we hope they feel?
- What should they take action on?
Finding the answers is how Audacia Strategies can help you see your organization from the outside. Are you ready to take action? Let’s talk!
Photo credit: Team Of Television Reporters In Boardroom by Jacob Lund Photography from NounProject.com
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