An empty chair

Give comms a seat at the table

February 15, 2022

COVID changed so many of our lives in dramatic and also small ways. For me, one was watching TV. I’ve never been a huge TV person so I’ve been fortunate to have great programs to watch as I focused on sticking close to home.

The other night I started to watch a show called Suspicion. It’s interesting but one of the major characters is played by Uma Thurman and she is the head of a strategic communications firm. When asked what she does, she asks, “Do you know what strategic communications is?” And then, in her character’s cold and powerful manner, she says, “We construct a version of reality that is usually at odds with someone else’s.”

This is a far cry from the line in Bridget Jones’ Diary that describes her PR job as “fannying around with press releases.”

Without the nefarious undertone, Uma is right — strategic, and crisis, communications is vital, powerful and valuable.

That is not always the perception within business. As Bill says, many a time communications is “clean up on aisle 6” a.k.a. our purpose is understood to be cleaning up the mess created by the rest of the business.

If this is your approach to communications, you are leaving a tremendous amount of your capability on the table. The communications team, as keepers of the message, should be weaved into everything you do as a company.

Post a job opening? That needs to be on message with your values and vision. Request for proposals? Those should stick to the message of vision and strategy.

Marketing, sales, government affairs and even employee handbooks are vehicles for reinforcing your message. Cozy coordination with your communications team is critical to this.

Siloing communications manifests itself in many ways but becomes acutely critical in crisis preparedness, risk mitigation and crisis response. Not having the rest of your company understand their role in protecting and insuring your reputation is a mistake.

Plain and simple, a mistake.

We are constantly beating the drum of crisis preparedness because we truly believe that is the best way to protect your reputation but let’s take a step back even further.

And this message is for the non-communicators in the group — for your own good, give communications a seat at the decision-making table.

Good communicators look around corners (the technical term is second-level thinking) and see the full landscape. It is their job to anticipate what is lurking in the shadows on all fronts because they will be brought in to clean it up.

So here are some pieces of advice that will put your crisis preparation and mitigation one step further simply by increasing the impact of communications:

  1. Communications does not have a P&L, but that team is in charge of protecting and growing your most valuable assets – your reputation. Remember it’s got value. Even the IRS says so.
  2. Encourage linkage between departments. Ensure that your business units understand the vital role of communications and create opportunities for coordination.
  3. Involve your other departments in crisis planning. The two biggest pieces of feedback from a recent global simulation we did, were “do this more frequently” and other “business units need to take part.” Take down those walls!
  4. Communications is the vehicle that you use to speak to every audience: customers, investors, press, and the community among others. Even those who don’t have comms as their first point of communications should be on message. Everyone should be singing from the song book that comms writes.
  5. And when it comes to crisis preparedness and risk mitigation, communications is in the best seat to see potholes in the strategy because their only responsibility is to protect your reputation

To understand the breadth of thinking on this I did a Google search. It yielded 13,530,000,000 results for “why have communications at the table” so clearly we aren’t the only ones thinking about this

So for those in the back, give your communications leader a seat at the decision-making table. Your value will thank you.


Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

Filed under: Blog

Stephanie Craig

Stephanie Craig has built her reputation as a crisis expert by guiding some of the world’s most prominent people and organizations through their most trying moments. Before Kith, Stephanie founded the Apeiron Strategy Group where she counted former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and the mayor of the nation’s 10th largest city as clients.