There was once a Great Divide in the corporate functions in charge of how a company interacted with the public: On one side were the sober corporate communicators who could not only comprehend intricate corporate strategy but also interpret it for the variety of stakeholder groups with which any company must engage. On the other side were the creative marketing types, quasi celebs in the corporate hierarchy for the cool, very visible and very expensive campaigns they would concoct to sell products, primarily aimed at the biggest of these communities—consumers.
Tear down this wall, as Ronald Reagan famously demanded in another context. The rules have changed, and the creativity that once was thought to be the sole province of marketing is very much needed and being employed in corporate communications as the jobs of defining brand and protecting reputation have become one in the same. Today, brand is being fashioned by the direct interactions in social media between companies and their stakeholders and the storytelling through homegrown content that is becoming the leading edge of company communications. These enterprises can’t be executed without a healthy dollop of creativity in both thinking and delivery.
Today, companies must connect with people on a more intimate level than ever before, based on mutually held basic human values—such as happiness (Coca-Cola), motherhood (P&G), smarter planet (IBM) and imagination (GE). That’s what Jim Stengel, the author of Grow, is envisioning in his purpose-driven economy. You need a creative element to make that connection, which is vital to the reputation management of any company. You also need creativity to develop the kind of magnetic ideas necessary to outline that strategic corporate mission, and then communicate that strategy and mission through stories that will resonate simultaneously with all of a company’s stakeholders—customers, employees, investors and policymakers. This isn’t just nice to have; this larger-than-life mission distinguishes the best companies and drives the highest performance, as Stengel has demonstrated quite persuasively.
Brands face yet another challenge: Even with a great mission and interesting stories, they still must break through the din in an information-rich age. There is so much content being produced from so many sources that, without extremely thoughtful ideas, clever execution and the right platform, your communications may easily get lost in the shuffle. It explains why companies such as Chipotle have gone as far as to create a satirical mini television series criticizing unhealthy industrial farming techniques just to stand out from the clutter.
Communications professionals, unlike marketers, have always had the Herculean task of selling to multi-audiences and know all too well the competition for the attention of stakeholders. Today, agencies are hearing from companies looking for their version of Coke’s happiness because they are coming to realize that people care more than ever about the company behind the product. Do they treat their employees fairly and compassionately? Are they finding ways to cut down their environmental footprint? Are they always pushing the envelope on innovation? What do they stand for as a company? Successfully meeting these expectations means realizing your company’s corporate purpose, which can only be achieved with an authentic desire to find it and a creative environment that allows you to get the message out once you have it.