Editorial: It's Time to Communicate

By Len Monheit
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With the need to mobilize an industry and collaborate on a scale not seen in many years, perhaps its time to look at harnessing the power of communication using some of the tools we have available. After all, if there’s a way to enhance our capabilities , internally and externally, gain competitive advantage, ease the burden of compliance and get more efficient in the process, then why not explore the possibilities?

Over the past several weeks we’ve seen industry trade associations communicate industry issues to membership very effectively, including the current comment period on the proposed GMP rules. These activities are successful because an on-line community has been constructed by these associations frequently engaging in dialogue with members using a variety of technology supported techniques. These include the publishing of regular electronic newsletters to reach membership. They include ‘members-only’ sections of websites where distilled pertinent information is available to support members activities. In some cases, associations keep segregated lists and databases so that they can reach segments by message, a very effective communication tool.

Directory and search engine marketing will raise a company or association’s profile to an Internet audience. Companies providing products or services directly to consumers have been most successful, spending to get top of search results on major engines. Other strategies include relying on high level content, out-linking strategies and matching of meta-tags, page titles and descriptions for search engine success. While these directories let companies expand reach and audience, the benefits are only partially realized unless a community building effort to engage, capture and retain audience is practiced as well. This is the key to developing and maintaining an Internet program.

Are there other tools and methods for engaging an interested audience? And why don’t companies operate in the same manner as the associations? The answer to the first question is an emphatic “YES”, and the second, “THEY CAN”.

Websites have changed over the past five years. Originally on-line brochures, some of the best have now become homes to communities, part of a series of sites a viewer will return to every few weeks to see ‘what’s new’. If this is not an automatic process, e-mail and e-newsletters are used as tools to remind the viewer of the site’s existence, in some cases to offer special deals. Yet these programs are frequently not optimized and not part of a larger communications strategy. One wonders how to increase the effectiveness - to keep a site dynamic and changing with new information, or in the case of the current regulatory changes we’re facing, to communicate an industry call to action to submit comments, cases and solutions to the FDA before they finalize the Supplement GMP’s.

I’m surprised at the number of sites where current press releases and announcements are not posted and at the number of organizations that don’t have an e-mail list of clients and potential clients, or even if they do, a strategy for managing this list and integrating it with other business and communication processes.

So what’s to be done--Especially if you’re one of the mid-size companies soon to be hardest hit by the compliance burden for GMP’s or for Food Safety legislation requirements?

Some approaches to consider include:

  • Investigate ways to present current information to clients either on a one-to-one or one-to-many basis.
  • Build both e-mail communication and e-newsletters into your planned communications mix, setting up the infrastructure to manage lists now.
  • Investigate collaboration tools including an organization Intranet. Appoint in-house champions at appropriate levels of the company to drive this process and key information pieces that need to be managed and communicated.
  • In both your Intranet and Extranet, consider a ‘module’ to place breaking or critical information or news that must be quickly and effectively communicated. As part of your overall strategy you could even create a list of recipients who would be automatically notified every time this information was modified, whether internal, external or both.
  • Identify gaps – places where internal communication is lacking or deficient, and make sure processes are defined and implemented that solve the problem.
  • Consult with suppliers to develop the easiest ways of managing records and assuring compliance.
  • Set up your electronic filing and record management systems to allow easy access to information and with the upcoming requirements in mind

There’s still a lot of hype about the Internet as a platform and communications vehicle. While it evolves, we’re faced with millions of spam mails, technology failures, and poor and misguided impressions of what we’ve seen so far. Separating the hype from the reality and developing practical and stable solutions is a challenge. Dismissing the use of technology to support your operation, especially when every competitive and communication advantage is precious to the survival of your business is a mistake.

And right now, more than ever, we need to communicate!

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