Moving Communications Up The Value Chain

Post written by

Kristy Fair

Global Communications Director at Lenovo, driving content marketing, events, diversity and inclusion, and corporate communications.

When I started working in communications nearly 15 years ago, I would joke with my colleagues, “Here’s another order for the press release factory coming up,” as we would roll our eyes and groan about the undervaluation of the role. Undoubtedly, the request would come in from a marketing manager who had promised a vendor some publicity for the vendor’s product by adding a press release from my organization into a contract. I would then have to educate the promise-maker on why it was important to not make commitments on the public relations (PR) team’s behalf and why this didn’t help the company — even, at times, devaluing the brand. I mean, you wouldn’t make a commitment on someone else’s behalf in your personal life, so why would it be ok in business?

Sadly, little has changed for many of us communications professionals over the years when it comes to churning out announcements. I’m not declaring war on the press release. There certainly is a right time and place for a press release, but the communications team should be the one making that decision based on impact and outcomes over output and activity. This tactical example hits on a bigger point: the opportunity organizations waste when they don’t see the communications function as a strategic partner capable of impacting the business.

For years, we communications — or “comms” — folks have been relegated to the deli counter order-taker status. It’s partly our own fault because we didn’t challenge the business with what impactful data we could gather or because we didn’t view our role as driving business change (today, comms and brand often must be ahead of the business). And it’s partly an issue of us not having access to the right metrics that link comms activities to more generally recognized marketing and business measures like reputation, awareness and consideration (due to the cost of emerging tech tools or the manpower to calculate).

The democratization of tech tools, big data and artificial intelligence (AI) is changing this and giving comms the chance to elevate its role. Let’s seize the opportunity. We now have access to perception surveys, regression analysis, AI number-crunching, real-time testing, heat-mapping and scores of other tools to analyze opinion, engagement and impact. We are redefining what matters — no more vanity metrics — and moving closer to being able to answer how a specific communications activity impacts people’s perception of a brand.

As an analytically minded person and daughter of a researcher, this gap has always bothered me. While we’re not that granular yet with a cost-effective, scalable model, we’re getting much closer. This is the comms Holy Grail. It’s part of a bigger trend as comms, brand and marketing become much more integrated moving forward, elevating the concept of marking communications (marcomm) again.

With this new capability, our global communications team at Lenovo is helping to move comms up the value chain, driving a stronger focus across the business, particularly in areas like diversity and inclusion. We’ve identified this topic as a key driver in our reputation and tailored a comms workstream around this pillar as we move the entire organization to an agile communications model.

Firstly, we partnered closely with the office of diversity and inclusion (D&I) to understand our priorities, strategy, programs and organizational readiness while conducting our own research and benchmarking against others in the tech industry across programs and marketing activities. A SWOT analysis helps identify immediate wins and areas to focus on for the long-term. Doing this upfront leg work takes time, but we’re investing in a plan that supports our business, not a tactic. My team knows this phrase well: “We’re going to tell the best story we have to tell today, and help the business move to make the changes that give us a better story to tell tomorrow.”

This manifests in a few ways. While we continue to tell our global narrative around diversity fueling innovation, we are getting smarter about how we message the story across our key markets. By conducting a research study, we are identifying the key differences in how people in different countries view the main areas that impact our reputation in the workplace. This insight will help us counsel the business with actionable information and allow us to ensure there are no gaps between what people say is important to them in the workplace and what Lenovo’s policies, programs, benefits, etc., are in those countries. At the same time, this information helps us better target our messaging to the nuances that go into a rather abstract concept like providing equal opportunities in the workplace.

Another way we’re helping to drive reputation through accountability and transparency is with our diversity and inclusion report, in which we share our goals, efforts and results to increase the number of women and underrepresented executives globally.

Also, we’re proactively convening conversations across the business by bringing influencers who are advocates for specific areas within D&I into business processes, not just communications and marketing activities. We are becoming facilitators of change. And finally, by monitoring the media and social landscape and knowing our business deeply, we’re able to identify areas for opportunity and to reduce risk by introducing new programs.

In the future, we’ll expand our D&I storytelling beyond the structural benefits that make Lenovo a great place to work and begin to focus more on the cultural component. This means focusing on a point of view on social topics or constructs that we believe in.

Escaping the PR order-taking counter completely may be an unrealistic expectation for the time being, but I’m excited about the elevated future of PR. With initiatives like these and focus on greater impact, we’re in a good position to move comms further up the value chain.

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Global Communications Director at Lenovo, driving content marketing, events, diversity and inclusion, and corporate communications.