It’s been interesting to witness the commentary on President Obama’s communication efforts the past few months. Despite many kudos on the pace and breadth of activity of the Obama administration, one prominent thread has been the frustrating dearth of context to the blizzard of announcements and initiatives. Check out this article from back in March. In recent weeks, Obama has been getting credit for providing more direction and framework to his platform. An Obama speech in April as he approached the end of his first 100 days in office – see two examples of coverage here and here– seemed to finally satisfy the public (and media’s) need to understand how all the initiatives tied together. The basic building blocks were there: a checklist of the major initiatives; a five-step plan highlighting the salient platform objectives; a preview of future activities; a summary of how success will be measured. In short, he laid out a cogent plan that allows him to position his policies and programs in the context of a larger goal.
In recent months I’ve witnessed a parallel to this situation in my little corner of the corporate world. Communicators seem eager to promote specific events or programs, but often miss the critical step of positioning these announcements in a larger context that would help recipients – whether it be employees or customers – to make sense of the information. In many matrixed, global organizations the challenge for communicators is working across functions and regions and developing broad programs or messages that cut across individual businesses. Easier said than done in increasingly lean organizations and the pressure to talk first and ask questions later. This propensity to punch out serial announcements – often with dubious news value – is only increasing with the popularity of social media tools like Twitter and blogs, which encourage short, frequent jolts of information. Furthermore, it’s clear that news outlets – slave to their 24-hour news cycles and propensity to favor drama and hype over substance – will rarely fill in the blanks or dig deeper than the headline.
The lesson here for communicators is to remember our critical role as strategic counsellors and planners. If we don’t help organize the noise, who will?