In communications, complexity breeds confusion

How can Facebook and the White House, organisations with unmatched resources, power and influence, make such a meal of their communications?

You are going to be enormously scrutinised when you rule the world. But Mark Zuckerberg, who runs the biggest content platform on the planet, and Donald J Trump, who holds the most powerful office, seem to operate in a permanent state of crisis.

Reputationally, they are sinking lower and lower, which is not good for Facebook’s share price nor the Republicans’ re-election chances.

It goes to show, how important it is to:

  1. get your product right; and
  2. create a compelling and authentic narrative around what you do and how you are going to solve other people’s problems.

What does that mean for us mere mortals?

On the communications front, it reveals everyone can get caught out by disruption, including the ones doing the disrupting. It underlines the importance of acting strategically, with conviction and doing it consistently to keep your world in order.

In communications, complexity breeds confusion.

When our judgement is clouded, we spend money on poor advice, go scattergun in our approach and lose control of how best to distribute information.

The problem is that the old rules of PR no longer apply. Companies have to find a new communications “system”.

Is that content marketing? Brand or strategic marketing? Sharpening up the corporate communications team? None of them in particular but actually all of them – embodied in a DIY Newsroom™.

Why a newsroom approach?

Most medium to large-scale organisations have at least a half dozen comms and marketing people, but often they can barely keep up with social media demands let alone bigger campaigns. By reorganising how people work and introducing new work practices, comms teams can support the organisation’s strategic initiatives as well as handle the insatiable needs of the day.

A newsroom approach makes sense because, firstly, they are at the top of the content food chain. Newsrooms are well-versed at creating and distributing quality content – it is their reason for being.

Secondly, newsrooms have been pressure-tested over generations. They are accustomed to change and shine during times of crisis and chaos.

A DIY Newsroom, though, constitutes more than a snazzy office layout and encouraging a frenzied environment. It is founded on what I describe as a five-step SMART way – of Strategy, Media, Authenticity, Results and Team.

An obvious benefit of going DIY is that it is cost effective, with little need for outsourced activities. Newsrooms are uncompromising in getting measurable results – and in your sector that could mean a quantifiable lift in engagement or sales.

Comms and marketing teams tend to be great in a couple of specific areas, but too many are infatuated by the vanity game of hunting for social media “likes” and “shares”. A DIY Newsroom, at its core, is obsessively strategic.

Local governments, education institutions and umbrella associations are prime candidates.

With the fragmentation of local media, councils are perfectly positioned to reorganise internal resources to become the leading generators and distributors of community information. The ROI is increased community engagement.

In education, schools can swing the focus from stock-standard enrolment marketing to developing reputations as thought leaders. As well, a DIY Newsroom can inoculate schools from ever-looming crises.

Big corporate players are making a direct and authentic connection with their constituencies by rethinking their comms.

AFL Media is a great exponent of controlling its own message and relies less today on Melbourne’s footy media. With its bluenotes operation, ANZ sidesteps the fickleness of the established financial media. And Australia’s largest private health fund, Bupa, is seeing good results from its digital newsroom.

These organisations have considerable firepower. But, as Trump and Facebook show, getting communications right today is as much about quality and strategic decision making and execution as it is about the spend.

Shadowing the best modern newsrooms just may be the new playbook for companies wanting to be heard above the cacophony of communications.

Stuart Howie is executive director of Flame Tree Media. He is a former editorial director of Fairfax Regional Media and author of The DIY Newsroom™ to be published in 2018. stuart@flametreemedia.com.au