5 Things Your Boss Needs to Know About Communications: Takeaways from IPR’s Strategic Communications Summit

The Institute of Public Relation’s 2nd Annual Strategic Communications Summit’s theme, "Communicating in an Era of Radical Transparency" seemed irresistible in light of recent events from the Arab Spring to Weinergate but I was a little skeptical about attending a conference with such little history. A couple of hours into it, I knew IPR had put together a winner.The formula was simple: assemble a group of first-class speakers and panelists and allow attendees ample time to ask tough questions in a not-for-attribution environment. We heard frank and open talks from Admiral Roughead, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Director of the National Geospatial Agency, and senior communicators across a variety of industries (Cargill, Shell, Marriott, etc.). You can see the full lineup here. http://www.strategicsummit.com/agenda.htm . The atmosphere allowed for a genuine exchange of ideas about what works in the private and public sectors. We were a relatively small group and it was easy to talk to every attendee over the 2-day event which gave ample time to understand how an organization solved a specific problem but also to collaborate on how those lessons might be applied under other circumstances. Consider this post a round of applause to my fellow attendees who shared their insights enthusiastically. Here are five major takeaways from the event that we found public sector communications leaders need to make sure their bosses to understand. These ideas bear repeating until they are no longer the most common pitfalls. Next week I’ll lay out a five things your government communications director should already be doing. 1. Leadership is still paramount. There is a tendency to focus on what somebody else says is a best practice but active Leadership in your own organization is the most important factor in effective strategic communications. It is no accident that companies/organizations with clear vision statements and that have fostered an environment of empowerment within their workforce, are also trendsetters in communications, customer service and reputation management.

2. In today’s environment being a thought leader takes courage to fight antibodies (those who say “you can’t do this”) and the willingness to make few mistakes along the way. But think of it this way. The control over the message you think you have by limiting your engagements to the time, topic and medium of your choice is an illusion. You do not own your narrative, the only choice is to what extent you will contribute to it.

3. Every good communications strategy begins with the facts. Facts are indisputable, and once identified, compelling campaigns can be built around their interpretation. Know the difference between the facts and what is aspirational. In this age of radical transparency, people everywhere expect to always learn the truth… eventually.

4. The people on your communications team matters. They should be adaptive, innovative and effective across traditional media as well as areas of “online influence” (We discussed audio, video, images, blogs, microblogs, data, forums, wikis search and social networks.) Most importantly they should have access to leaders in a way that enables proactive engagement and doesn’t waste time by over emphasizing gatekeepers or filters.

5. You cannot wait until a crisis to build trust and transparency. What you can do is build a culture of transparency into your daily operations by regularly communicating aspects of your routine. It is okay if you don’t make news. You weren’t making news before, but what you are doing is establishing processes and training your team so transparency is already a proven part of your organizations core values when disaster strikes. There is no substitute for doing this work up front. This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive but if one or your top 5 didn’t make my list, I want to hear about it. What else did you find interesting about this conference? What are your other communications “rules of the road” in this age of transparency? Leave a comment here or continue the conversation on twitter @RabbleBJ90.

BJ Bailey is an associate at Phase One Consulting Group and Army veteran currently supporting the U.S. Army Chief Information Officer/G-6 in strategic communications and social media engagement.