By Len Monheit
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about communication and ‘ruts’. Like many other things in life, it’s quite easy to get into a ‘rut’ or habit and continue to do things the way they’ve always been done. Communication is no different, and here too the tendency to ‘do as we always have’ can be overwhelming. Of course there’s the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality, but often it’s fighting inertia to implement change that is the largest obstacle. And when you combine this with the fact that we’re frequently putting out fires rather than being proactive, it’s no wonder that change, if it happens, happens oh, so slowly. From time to time, one must take a step back and analyze forces at work, rethink operations, and most importantly, creatively rethink options. And in this, communication is no exception.
Interestingly, we are seeing some changes, in an industry that is known for being ‘technologically averse’. Some are the net effect of osmosis from other sectors and related operations. (web seminars and on-line conferencing) Others are forced by expediency and economics such as higher travel costs, availability of personnel (symposiums and smaller, more intimate event venues, e-newsletters and other on-line communication programs) and others are driven by high level target audience analysis interlaced with long-term strategic planning (extensive, integrated community building exercises). At times, one must wonder whether there is in fact an optimal formula. How can the organization, struggling to keep up with current demands, also optimally use all communication vehicles effectively? And in rather complex organizations, whose responsibility is it to ensure the company is well armed and well-placed in this arena?
The answers to these questions, unsurprisingly, are closely related. Both involve high level operational analysis, an understanding of interactions both up and down the value chain, and access to certain technical capabilities and competencies. A CIO or CTO (Chief Information Officer or Chief Technical Officer) might grasp the implications, or perhaps a savvy senior operations officer, director or manager or even a dedicated communications specialist. Frequently though, the latter are more involved with outbound communications intended for sales support or marketing, rather than integrating and/or managing the entire communications function for an organization. Some companies have advisory or other guiding boards of experienced professionals that might consider examining this type of issue, but for small or mid-size companies, the dedicated resources, even if the need is felt, are just not available, nor are qualified personnel. And if the need isn’t felt, then obviously it’s not there, or the company hasn’t realized either opportunity or deficiency.
Let’s assume, for the purposes of this argument, that the company believes the need for a re-examination of communication practices and programs isn’t there, and note some of the realities of our current business environment:
- There are more events about which a company must make choices
- Travel costs (for conferences, sales calls, meetings etc.) are rising and will continue to rise
- The use of technology in business continues to evolve, giving rise to more communications options and various technology ‘generations’ being employed by the business
- It is difficult to get client ‘mind-share’, screening is becoming increasingly more sophisticated
- E-mail communication continues to evolve and the number of automatic functions (notifications, fulfillments, triggered process etc) has multiplied the number of messages generated for each unique transaction
Just examining these aspects would seem to suggest a need for regular analysis of communications functions and practices. I would venture to say that the more successful companies, in this industry (or any industry for example) understand this need.