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17 May 2017

Chief Communications Connector – introducing the future comms leader

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Guest writer, Natasha Plowman, Founder and Director of Spinning Red, a communications, marketing and corporate affairs leader, discusses why “it’s time we call out the true value of a communicator”

It is time we call out the true value of a communicator* because the future of comms is really about breaking down silos, not creating them. To do that lies with connecting the dots to ensure we quickly see what the audience, stakeholder, consumer, shopper, customer need from you. And then make it happen.

For too long comms departments have broadened into too many different niche disciplines. Some work seamlessly together, some less so. Some are prioritised by the business, some are fighting for recognition. Some sit back and navel gaze wondering why the CEO, CFO, CMO doesn’t understand what they do. Yet, the ones that work get the business they are serving and are seen as critical drivers to protect and enhance the reputation of the company. They connect all the dots internally and externally – so why don’t we call it that – a Chief Communications Connector (CCC).

The value of a good communicator is not only understanding the story that you want to share – but understanding the story that your audience needs to hear. Someone who brings diverse teams together and is able to quickly get to an insight that reflects the audience not the speaker.

So, what would a CCC do to mean they are valued and intrinsic to the business?

1. Understand how your business makes money
Sit on commercial teams, listen to sales people, listen to consumers – understanding their pain and why your product, service, idea will help is core to understanding how you make money and therefore how best to communicate.

2. Bring different perspectives
The best communicators have antennae to understand issues, risk and can empathise – ensuring different voices are heard often brings a new perspective and better decision making.

A CCC doesn’t create individual fiefdoms, but navigates the business to pull in diverse thinking, experience and know how on projects. They know who is doing what – they don’t duplicate.

3. Make connections
Too often we ignore people because we can’t immediately see the value they may bring – we don’t see the connections. Being able think laterally and from others viewpoints enables better connections.

Who will be doing these roles in the future? They certainly don’t need to have come up through the ranks of traditional corporate comms (or whatever functional name is chosen) because as the Chief Communications Connector it is more about understanding than doing and recruitment should be based on how they deliver, how they connect, not simply what they have done.

For me, where I have worked with a CCC, or even been one is when you are a trusted advisor who can navigate complex businesses because you have diverse experience. You develop relationships with everyone and ensure stuff gets done. You are naturally curious and inquisitive. You question, and ask why. You listen and observe.

There is so much talk about purpose based marketing and the new ‘CSR’ at the moment as well as debates about why purpose isn’t truly reflected in end to end brand building. Maybe focus needs to be on who is really connecting the dots amongst the myriad of stakeholders and audiences inside and outside the organisation. To ensure what is being developed is truly fit for purpose.

One of the greatest impacts we had with #thinkhowyoudrink at Diageo, was understanding how and when the brands would promote a responsible drinking program. We created an ad that the audience could relate to. And, it worked, it resonated, it was bold. We connected the issue we needed to solve with the audience and the brand promoting it. It was less about budget (which was miniscule in comparison to other campaigns). But it proved the premise that connecting the dots from idea to creative to execution and all the teams along the way have a stake is what makes it work.

Or even looking at #ThisGirlCan – fantastic creative execution and stories that many women relate to. The creative, the insight and the issues spoke to many, it connected us. But, the creative is only one small part of the campaign. Success is ensuring the actual structures, classes, facilities and support are provided in a way that we know women want available to them if we are truly to settle the issue of getting more women active, more regularly. That means connecting the dots between the issue into the reality of what is provided – because you can’t have one part of the story without the other. The alternative is simply spin and key to success is connecting with the sector and the audience that we know so well.

Do you think this is reality? Do you know people already operating like this? What is holding people and teams back? Are we asking for permission and not forgiveness to connect teams up better?

Is part of the problem specialisation across disciplines, when in reality it is all communications? It is knowing your audience and knowing your business. So, let’s get rid of all of the names and just get stuff done.


*The teams I am talking about can come under many different guises – from corporate affairs, corporate reputation to public affairs, public relations or communications and marketing. With many more variations as well. The functions can include some or all of these disciplines:
Corporate comms, PR/ consumer comms, internal comms, employee engagement, business partnering, public affairs, public policy, CSR, and a myriad of others before we get into the marketing mix as well. Some like to equate what they do to being a dark art, but in reality it is all comms.

Top Communication roles with f1 Recruitment.