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M&S: good corporate communications in difficult times

The numbers at Marks and Spencer are not great. But the corporate message is getting across: things are on the up.

The first quarter statement is written soberly. The key messages are at the top. And CEO Marc Bolland gets his message in quickly.

Not the power it had but great slippers

Not the power it had but great slippers

At the AGM M&S revealed that it sells 1 in 5 slippers for males in the UK. That’s a nice nugget to dig out and present to the normally placid shareholders. And was picked up by the Daily Telegraph.  That’s good corporate communications in a challenging time.

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3 tips on how to work with centralised content generation

Centralised generation of any content creates opportunities and problems, as I argued in my last blog.

Here are three tips to help overcome the problems.

Train

Train the centralised content generators in what the specific voice of the brand is and what its key words are. This is done by the brand “owners” so that the content generators can keep the brands unique.

 

Brands need to train the content generators to keep the voice of the brand for its consumers

Brands need to train the content generators to keep the voice of the brand for its consumers

Review

Have regular and frequent meetings of the brand “owners” and the management of the central content generation section. These should review not only the content but also the process. Both sides should look for how they can kill any steps in the process to speed up the generation of quality content.

 

Regular and frequent review of content and process essential

Regular and frequent review of content and process essential

Consume

The staff of the central content generation section should consume the brands they work on looking for what is unique about them.

Central content generators need to look for what is unique about the brand

Central content generators need to look for what is unique about the brand

If you are in media for “brand” read publication.

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3 for and 3 against centralised content generation

Centralised content generation – or creating a hub for many publications to generate content – is on top of the agenda for many content generators. It’s been in operation for many years in some publishers for other functions and it’s time to take hard look at why it works and does not work.

Functional or brand specialisation?

In management speak centralised content generation creates functional specialisation: those doing the same function are collected together. The traditional option is product or brand specialisation: those working on the same brand are together.

 

The old way was brand specialisation, with its problems of costs; the new way is funcational specialisation, with its own problems

The old way was brand specialisation, with its problems of costs; the new way is funcational specialisation, with its own problems

Number 1: it’s cheaper

Here’s 3 reasons why centralised content generation works as a functional specialisation:

  • It costs less. This is the great driver. If you can pool content generation over many platforms and brands then the costs go down. We have seen that with content layout and other functions such as sub-editing of copy. And this can all be quantified, adding to the argument for it with hard numbers in cash.
  • It can be faster: better that one person writes the story and can put it in many different brands at the same time than many are working on it at their different speeds.
  • It can enforce corporate standards rather than brand standards.

These are the types of arguments which have led to Hearst Digital and others go for it.

Number 1: keep the voice of the brand clear

Here’s 3 reasons why central content generation does not work because brand specialisation is better:

  • No member of a hub, working over several brands, can get the right voice for their brand. Each brand has a position in its market, talking to its audiences over different media with its voice. Nobody on a hub can recreate these voices who is not in the day-to-day process of generating content for that audience with that voice. It therefore creates a mush of content, not a brand tone. Do you want to enforce corporate standards and a corporate voice rather than a brand voice? Few consumers of content – readers, listeners, viewers etc — consume because of the corporation behind them, they consume because of the voice.
  • Who prioritises the content the hub produces and for whom? Hubs are skill-specific organisations spread over many brands, called a matrix structure, serving different clients internally. The old way was to have a “silo” structure with people only generating content for their brand. The hub has been used in the past for website skills and has led to a lot of issues of who gets the best service. Is the best service given to those who have the best relationships with the hub or those who most need it? Content generation is a creative business which does not easily take to complex management, and matrix management is complex.
  • Where will responsibility be held for the content generated by the hub? Any legal, ethical or regulatory questions are focused on the brand. Could an editor of a brand say “it was the centralised content generators who produced that story and therefore not my responsibility?” They could say that, but legally they are personally responsible.

Hard reasons — money — versus soft reasons — voice

You can see that my 3 arguments against centralised content generation are longer than those for. This is because the 3 against rest on softer issues than the key issue of why centralised content creation is being introduced: money. It is hard to quantify the risks of getting the voice wrong, prioritisation issues and responsibility issues. But it is easy to see how much money can be saved. There is no real way to assess the risk of losing the voice of a brand but many ways to count the pennies saved. And there is too much pressure to save the pennies to stop this trend.

More coming

So content generators need to work around the weaknesses of centralised content generation. More on this soon.

 

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RBS: poor policy poorly communicated to axe bank managers

Royal Bank of Scotland has decided to axe its bank managers in its branches. A poor decision when more people want to see the person in charge and not be told “the computer says no”.

Poor communications

And to compound the error it communicates it badly: or not at all directly. The Times carries the story on page 45 today. It reports that 245 bank managers are to go and managers will look after 2 or 3 branches.

Bad argument

Nothing on the RBS website about it. If I were a customer of RBS, which I am not, I would want to know the impact this would have on my service. But all I’d have is the argument conveyed in The Times that it will save money.

Think of the customers

If a corporation, and especially a bank today, makes such a decision it should get out there and explain it. And not just in terms of saving money. Think of the customers in your corporate communications and angle your policy towards them.  Think: what would Mr Mainwaring have done?

What would Mr Mainwaring do?  Not what the RBS is doing.

What would Mr Mainwaring do? Not what the RBS is doing.

 

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Tip of the week: use those hyphens correctly

London’s Docklands Light Railway has the following phrase on a sign: “just in time information”.

It’s wrong. It is not “just information”, or “in information”, or “time information”. It should be “just-in-time information”.

Needs hyphens

It needs hyphens to glue the words together so that we know it is a complete modifier to the word “information”.

The easy way to remember this?  If you say it out loud and said it fast, “justintime” becomes a complete word, then use hyphens.

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Murriwins in supermarket communications?

In the savage wars of the supermarkets Morrisons’ corporate communications take the biscuit. It has incorporated its distinctive M into the slogan about price: “I’m cheaper” says a sticker on the floor at the doors and on marketing material.

Good appeal from Morrisons: personal and direct

Good appeal from Morrisons: personal and direct

 

Notice the “I’m” making Morrisons into a person. And notice the “your”, appealing directly to the customer.

Murray wins?

Locally in Wimbledon this July Morrisons may have cause to rebrand their shop again Murriywins, a nice touch.

Murriwins again?

Murriwins again?

Top 10 tips for presentations

Presentations are the bread and butter of corporate communications. Yet they can be boring, can create panic in new presenters and fail to get the message across.

Here’s my top 10 tips for presentations:

1                     Presentations are about presentation and content. Great content can be ruined by a poor performance. But a great performance cannot make poor content any better. Too many presenters focus only on the content and forget the performance angle.

2                     Have a clear structure to your content: a beginning, a middle and an end. And make the end strong.

3                     You are presenting to an audience: make contact with them. Look them in the eyes: the presenter who refuses to look at people is aloof, at the least. And use words like “we” and “you” to connect with the audience.

4                     Be enthusiastic: so many presentations fail because the presenter does not seem to have any interest in what they are saying. This is often caused by nerves.

5                     Use a combination of pictures and text in your presentation: some people like text, others like pictures such as mind maps. Vary them in your presentation and use them alternately to get a point across.

6                     Consider an alternative to death by PowerPoint. Consider Prezi and other alternative presentation tools which will make a difference.

7                     Do your preparation: prepare your content but also prepare your timings and prepare yourself. A good breathing exercise before making a presentation will energise your brain.

8                     Include stories, anecdotes in your presentation: stories make a point and they personalise the presentation.

9                     Use the full range of your voice: don’t speak in a monotone. And do use gestures to make points: don’t grip the podium or have your hands down beside you all the time.

10                 Stand firm: many presenters go not stand upright. It may seem a small point but if you are not standing upright with your legs apart you are not breathing properly and lack of oxygen to the brain will hamper your performance.

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Top 10 on how to run events: from a watercress festival!

An essential part of corporate communications is an event. And the Watercress Alliance put on a great event this weekend to celebrate the first watercress harvest of the year.

When did you last eat watercress?

Think how hard it is to communicate the message of eating watercress. Seldom used in the ordinary kitchen today but with more calcium than milk and more iron than spinach, so its sponsors say.

A total of 15,000 people went to the Watercress Festival in Alresford, Hampshire this Sunday. Because the corporate communications were great.  And the weather also great.

Here’s my top 10tips for organising corporate communications events from having a great day there:

Make win a multiplier

1                     You’ve heard of the cliché of Win-Win. Forget that. Make it a win, win, win, win… The festival has been running for 11 years prompted by the Watercress Alliance, three local growers. So they benefited. Then add the stall holders who attracted 15,000 potential punters. So they won. Then add the Watercress Railway line which shuttled people from a park-and-ride centre over a 10 minute train ride on a heritage railway to the town. So they win. Then add the Young Farmers who ran the park and ride for £5 per car parking including two rides on the railway, there and back. So they win. And so it goes on.

Prizes

2                     Include competitions.  The Festival had competitions for who could eat the most watercress, which I did not enter.      It also had competitions by categories including the best overall product. That was won by watercress ice cream. Watercress in sweets: it was there. Anybody want watercress fudge? Then go to Mummy Makes Fudge. Watercress in sausages and burgers: it was there. That was won by local butchers Sole Butchers.

Build from a small core

3                     Build the event up from the interest of a small core. The Watercress Alliance members have built it and it kept going.

Don’t over egg it

4                     But, and this is a big but, do not make the event overly lavish: make it accessible and friendly. That’s where the park-and-ride idea was so good given the poor parking facilities on the town. But it was a bit packed in the main part of the town.

Get the human story

5                     Make a human story of it: a bride needed to get to her wedding car through the throng and the events were stopped to get her there. Ahhhhh.

Good organisation

6                     Have good marshals and good communications between them. They did much get to the bride to the church on time. I saw two cars trying to get through the crowds and they got out as a result of the good control of the marshals, despite the 15,000.

Concentrate

7                     Keep the event concentrated. This event may have died if run over two days: the organisers and those running stalls certainly may have done given the effort they put in. This may not be so for larger corporate events. And it could have petered out if spread too far over the town.

A totla of 15,000 enjoy the watercress festival this weekend: a great example of how to run and promote a corporate event

A total of 15,000 enjoy the watercress festival this weekend: a great example of how to run and promote a corporate event

Good PR mustard: thinking of changing your name?

8                     Use some good PR. My questions about the events were promptly answered by the PR company, Mustard Communications, would you believe.

Health

9                     If possible, link your event to health. Such an event drew a wide range of people but to know that water cress has 15 essential vitamins is part of the message.

Be lucky

10                 Be lucky: such great weather. Without it the car park would have been a soggy mess and the visitors drenched.

 

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Miliband’s poor picture: say cheese and have eye contact

Another non-smiling politician loses the communications game.  Google Ed Miliband’s image and there are several good looking smiling images but they chose this one.  What is he looking at?

If you want to communicate then have some eye contact and smile.  Even in a small group make sure you make eye contact regularly with everybody.  In a large group keep contact with the audiance by looking at people.

Ed Miliband: poorly chosen picture for his appeal to the people

Ed Miliband: poorly chosen picture for his appeal to the people

 

But maybe his handlers did not want him to say cheese in case he was taken for Wallace, as in Wallace and Gromit.  Not even Wenlesdale?  See A Close Shave to understand the reference, if you don’t get it already.

 

 

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Tip of the week: get somebody out there talking for you in a crisis, however bad at the Co-op Group

Never, never ever stop communicating when there is a crisis.

Refusal to talk is bad

Today the Co-operative Group refused to respond on radio to the critical report by Lord Myners that the Co-operative Group is “disfunctional”.   The BBC’s Radio 4 “The World at One” announced that nobody from the Co-op wanted to talk. Shame on you the Co-op and a bad corporate communications decision.

Media filled by other messages if you don’t talk

As a result of your refusal to talk the airways and other media were filled by the criticism of the Co-op by Lord Myners’s damaging report.

Yet:

  • The Co-op knew the content of the report before hand: get somebody to talk;
  • The Co-op knew when the report was to be published: so work out what to say;
  • The Co-op should know that it has about 6 million members who want to know what is going to happen: so assure them;
  • The Co-op should know that its members are loyal: they believe in co-operative ownership so reassure them and engage them.

Damage limitation needed here: so speak up

Even worse, on the same day Paul Flowers, previously chair of the Co-op bank, was in court for possessing class 1 drugs and found guilty.

Co-op: get somebody out there talking now.

 

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