One of the first principles of developing an effective communications strategy is the discovery or listening exercise. We conduct in-depth research and social media monitoring over a period of weeks or even months, in order to find out what our target audience thinks, how they express themselves, who they are influenced by. We perform qualitative and quantitative analysis of the data and then distil this into a series of insights, which inform our strategy. It’s hard to argue with the basic logic of this approach—we have yet to meet a client who says, “Let’s skip that step—we don’t need to know what our stakeholders think.”
So why as agencies do we sometimes skip the in-depth listening exercise when it comes to our key stakeholders—the client? I had a “slap my forehead” moment this week when talking to Johannes Kleske, a trend analyst and strategy consultant from Third Wave Berlin. We asked Johannes to come in to discuss his approach to developing digital social media strategies for large consumer clients, like banks and telecom companies, to see how we could apply this to our clients in the pharma industry.
So he started taking us through his development process. Step one—dissect and debate the brief at a kickoff meeting. We all nodded in agreement: we wouldn’t dream of developing any kind of communications strategy without ensuring we have a full understanding of the client’s business objectives.
Step two—conduct a listening exercise. Again, nods all around, until Johannes went into a little more detail and it dawned on us that he meant an internal listening exercise. To successfully introduce any kind of innovation in a large (and possibly cautious) company, he said, you need to understand the environment and develop champions to embrace and drive change. By conducting interviews with people from a wide variety of divisions and functions of the company, you can gain a true understanding of their role, their relationship with other divisions (on a functional as well as personal level), their expectations and fears related to the proposed project. This not only provides insights to guide the strategy but also creates a foundation of trust and good will, which will help ensure the smooth approval and execution of the program.
That was the “slap my forehead” moment. It is easy to assume that our clients’ companies are alike in how they operate, how the different functions interact, and their perspective on digital communications (and social media in particular). But by first exploring the internal landscape, we may get early warning of idiosyncrasies that if ignored might become stumbling blocks later on—or we may find enthusiastic advocates in unexpected places who can help overcome the barriers to introducing new and innovative communications programs. Let’s practice what we preach, and apply the same rigor to understanding our internal stakeholders that we do to our external stakeholders.