Increased Business Knowledge is Key to Effective CommunicationIt sounds simple enough to say you need to understand your business before you can effectively talk about it.

You can’t expect to create effective communication without understanding your business drivers.

Yet, PR professionals often start communications planning before they have more than a surface level understanding of their business.

This is true for nonprofits and government entities, too.

If you want a seat at your organization’s leadership table, you can no longer measure your success by outputs.

Instead, you must focus on outcomes that directly contribute to business objectives.

The Big Benefit of Gaining Better Understanding of Your Business

Knowing your business allows you to lose those long-held fears about committing to move the needle to achieve business goals.

We lose the safety of reporting the number of monthly news clips.

But we gain the opportunity to show how strategically planned and integrated communications both inside and outside of the organization are more than a “nice to have.”

Strategic, effective communication is just as important to achieving business goals as the actions of our organizational partners in sales/business development, supply chain, human resources, legal, public affairs, and operations.

How to Expand Your Business Knowledge

Start to develop a macro and micro understanding of the business of your company by talking to leaders and senior managers.

Next, review financial reports, presentations, and current messaging inside and outside the organization.

Seek answer to these questions:

  • How do we make money/bring in revenue today?
  • How are we planning to grow revenues (i.e. more sales, greater efficiencies, acquisitions, more donations, raise prices, cut costs)?
  • What services/products do we offer, and what channels do we use?
  • Who are our customers/clients and other key stakeholders?
  • What can we do to help our employees and leaders achieve our goals?
  • What is our brand reputation? Does it contribute to our achievements or detract from them?
  • What is going on in our industry, our organization, the market, and the economy that could affect achievement of our goals?

How Effective Communication Can Drive Business Alignment

With your expanded knowledge of the business, you are ready to drill down into the organization’s strategy with the executive leadership team.

Your opportunity?

To clarify their thinking around action steps and identify how effective communications may help to achieve desired outcomes.

You may find they don’t realize they do not agree on the action steps.

This is where your communications and negotiation skills come in—by restating the disparate approaches, you can facilitate achieving better alignment.

For example, if the strategy calls for an increase in sales revenue and the annual goal is growth of 10 percent from the previous fiscal year, ask if that is defined as gross revenue or net and if the organization is focused on gaining new customers or increasing sales with existing customers.

The answers will help you plan communications to support that effort in partnership with marketing and sales.

A similar scenario could occur for a nonprofit.

If the plan is to increase donations by 10 percent year over year, is the focus to cultivate new donors, to convince existing donors to increase their pledges or both?

For a government organization, the scenario might be a goal to reduce the number of displaced children in group homes year over year.

You’ll want to understand if the focus to promote more foster home participation is to increase foster family support payments, intervene earlier in family crises situations, and/or to provide greater support to the family support system for teens during pregnancy and after the birth of their children.

Communications can play a key role in any of these scenarios and contribute to the achievement of the overall goals.

Build Shared Responsibility for Business Outcomes

It’s important to share responsibility with other teams for achievement of business goals.

Demonstrate you understand the business and both have skin in the game.

In return, you’ll gain their respect for the communications team as a valued partner.

And, as a result, you are more likely to be successful.

Also, leadership will view the success as a collaborative effort.

They’ll have new or additional appreciation for the value of effective communications to achievement of business goals.

Finally, be accountable to leadership.

Report progress on shared business goals and answer the all-important question from leadership, “What have you done for me lately?”

The answer is not “we had 200 positive news stories last quarter.”

Rather, focus on business outcomes, such as,

We promoted our bank with our community team and added a net 100 new customers to our bank last quarter who opened new checking and savings accounts which is 25 percent of our annual goal.

Here’s another example of a business-focused communications outcome,

We worked with a website developer to build and promote an online giving function that brought in $25,000 last quarter, 90 percent of which were new donors to our organization which puts us 50 percent of the way to achieving our annual goal.

For a government entity it could be,

We worked with our caseworkers to close one of our three group homes last quarter after having placed 25 children in new foster families which represents 35 percent of our annual goal.

There’s no better time to get to know your business better.

It will pay great dividends for you, your team, and your organization.

Sandra Longcrier

Sandra Longcrier, Fellow PRSA, helps organizations achieve their business objectives. She provides strategic counsel for integrated communications based on 30 years in corporate, nonprofit and government communications. She engages stakeholders through building or rethinking brands, websites, social media channels and change management. Longcrier periodically teaches at her alma mater the University of Oklahoma and is active in PRSA leadership and a ready volunteer!

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