The Future of Strategic Communications

As seen in Westchester County Business Journal

Today’s rapidly changing communications landscape requires that marketing communications professionals be strategic, creative, collaborative and nimble to stay on the cutting edge. Last month, Business Wire and CommPro.biz hosted a roundtable discussion at Business Wire’s midtown Manhattan office on the topic of innovation in the communications industry featuring seven industry CEOs.

I was delighted to participate with esteemed communication colleagues Barri Rafferty, CEO, Ketchum, North America; Jennefer Witter, CEO, The Boreland Group; Patrice Tanaka, co-founder, chief counselor and creative strategist, PadillaCRT; Sabrina Horn, CEO, Horn Group; and Sandra Fathi, president and founder, Affect. The roundtable was moderated by Cathy Baron Tamraz, chairwoman and CEO, Business Wire, and co-hosted by Fay Shapiro, president, CommPro.biz. A lively discussion ensued, with several takeaways:

Innovation in the workplace

To instill a spirit of innovation in the workplace, a supportive environment free of fear is a necessity. A culture of innovation must embrace the possibility of failure. Further, innovation should be a companywide responsibility, not an undertaking delegated to just a few. Ideation or brainstorming meetings should be established on a regular basis, and all team members should be invited to share new ideas. Encourage curiosity and risk taking, and develop ways to recognize and reward innovation.

Mentoring translates to success

Mentoring is key to nurturing tomorrow’s leaders: A robust learning environment can continually improve performance and the bottom line.

Junior staff members should adopt more than one mentor, diverse in both gender and skill set. In fact, junior staff should consider seeking out a personal “board of directors” who possess a range of competencies and varying points of view. Senior professionals also need to recognize the importance of reverse mentoring: Junior staff often bring a fresh point of view and are attuned to new media channels and trends.

Mentoring is especially important for women — even though we’ve made great strides, many of the roundtable participants noted obstacles women face entering the C-suite. Indeed, while there is an increasing female presence in the marketing and communications C-suite, many women opt to find success by establishing an independent firm. To right this, women can exert confidence, take on more risks, be direct about their needs and support each other.

The importance of collaboration

It’s paramount to build a shared sense of purpose. Empower employees and let them engage in strategy. Have high expectations, and demonstrate confidence in their ability. Allowing employees to own their jobs will yield better creativity, products and morale. One method is to share a project’s anticipated outcome, not just the work behind it. Consider starting questions with “How can we … .”

Skill sets and characteristics needed to succeed

Strategic thinking, passion, creativity, resourcefulness, digital savvy, adaptability and resilience are just a few of the traits necessary for success in communications. The growing complexity of the industry requires talent to be both right- and left-brained. With metrics playing an increasingly important role, one must be adept at tracking awareness, engagement and conversion – and also able to make changes in real-time to drive better business. We also need to tell stories across several platforms: press releases, photos, blogs and social media.

The future of the industry

The lines are more blurred than ever between marketing, communications and public relations. It has become essential to reach the target audience on their terms through the right channels. And there is a focus on deeper data analysis and measurement solutions to demonstrate the impact and effectiveness of communications programs. Instead of solely considering return on investment, there is now a need to provide return on engagement. Measuring the impact of a campaign is now at the top of every communications pro’s list.

The convergence of media — paid, earned, shared and owned — clearly requires new strategies, tools and skills. But as long as one generation continues to mentor and learn from the next, the leaders of tomorrow will have no difficulty innovating. The basics of strategic communications never change, but advancements in technology will always shape how an audience is reached, and how that reach is measured.

Stacey Cohen is president and CEO of Co-Communications Inc., with locations in Mount Kisco, Farmington and Manhattan. She can be reached by email at stacey@cocommunications.com or by phone at 914-666-0066.