What does Aretha Franklin bring to the world of corporate comms?

We had the pleasure of sponsoring the annual Corporate Communications conference earlier this month, which played host to an impressive line-up of speakers who shared what’s front of mind for them in 2020. Here, we summarise the three overarching themes and key learnings.

Daniel Rossall Valentine, Head of Campaign at the Royal Academy of Engineering spoke about leveraging the power of social media. Founder and project lead for ‘This is engineering’, one of the UK's most successful perception change campaigns, he shared some of the secrets behind the award-winning campaign. One is the understanding that there are two ways of changing perceptions: person-to-person communication and mass media communication; and these two methods work best when used together.

Rossall Valentine went on to talk about the cornerstones of a successful social media strategy and getting these right: goals, metrics, budget and governance. The role of narrative was also highlighted: “The use of narrative and storytelling has been proven to help consumers make emotional connections with brands.” The right narrative is credible, motivating and is pitched at the right level of sophistication for its intended audience.

What also came through was the role that social media can play to communicate a corporate’s human side, and how a company’s social media strategy can be optimised by fine-tuning messages to suit different audiences and tightening these messages to avoid ‘strategic drift’.

Internal engagement
Guy Esnouf, Director of Communications at npower gave a presentation on how to engage different types of employees to build an open and cohesive culture. Seven letters (as sung so powerfully by Aretha Franklin!) summed up what employees ultimately want from their employers: RESPECT. What does this mean?

  • Share the real numbers on company performance
  • Find out what employees care about – and ask how they’re doing
  • Empower managers to communicate with their teams
  • During times of change, be respectful by communicating consistently, transparently and honestly – and by answering (and not ignoring or avoiding) any questions that employees may have.

It’s also important to unify internal messaging and teams before externalising the message. As Tim Rutter, Head of Communications at Tata Steel said, “you need people more than you need money”.

On a day-to-day basis, there was discussion around the most effective ways to reach ‘offline employees’, such as those working on-site with no computer access. This is where more traditional methods such as a printed staff magazine or newspaper come into their own, as highlighted by Hitachi and Tata Steel; whereas Eurostar favours using screens in communal areas to deliver key messages and video content. Interestingly, external social media channels were cited as another way of reaching this audience, given that employees often follow their employer.

Building trust
Charlotte West, Executive Director, Global Corporate Communications at Lenovo shared some powerful statistics, one of which is that ethics now drive 76% of trust capital. In this “new world disorder”, consumers not only expect brands to act, but they also expect them to do so with integrity – “trust in truth”, as West summed up. She also predicts the rise of the Chief Reputation Officer, as companies understand more than ever the trust currency. She referenced Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer and her presentation rightly echoed the three steps outlined by Edelman on how we can rebuild trust as a nation: do the right thing; partner; lead.

The Luminous view
In these uncertain times, it’s more important than ever to communicate transparently, confidently and calmly. More often than not, it's about going back to basics with clear, inclusive language, getting to the crux of what it is you want to communicate and really thinking about your audience.

It was apparent that film is playing an ever greater role as an effective, engaging communications channel – for both internal and external audiences. We have first-hand experience of this, having helped several clients such as Octapharma and Galderma. Film has helped them to simplify complexity, reach the time-poor and engage the hard-to-reach. It goes back to one of the oldest forms of communication: storytelling.

Finally, employees are recognised as a company’s greatest advocates as well as its greatest detractors, so get your brand right – and live your brand - from the inside out.


Register for our #illumination event on ‘Have you got your brand building blocks right?’