Category Archives: Corporate Communications

Transparency Making Headway in Healthcare

Poor communication can hinder collaboration and success in business and in relationships. I recently read an article about how Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman turned around their company by implementing more effective communication strategies.  She contends that, for a company to be successful, everyone from stakeholders to employees to customers must have a clear line of sight, thus a more transparent view, into the company’s strategy and performance, whether it is good or bad. She suggests that if you acknowledge your problems and issues in addition to your successes, people are more likely to build trust in your brand.

Most industries, especially retail, have caught on to the idea of transparent communication, whether that’s via social media or price transparency. One industry, however, is lagging behind this trend— the healthcare industry. It is considered a complex and misunderstood industry, and some healthcare practitioners still have difficulty in their efforts to be more transparent with their patients.

Modern Healthcare recently published an article encouraging healthcare consumers to demand price transparency. They equated it to being as simple as receiving a receipt for the services performed. They referenced that we, as customers, can go into a Dunkin Donuts and see all the prices laid out; if you don’t receive a receipt, your order is free. Now, the healthcare industry has a lot more moving parts than your decision about what to eat for breakfast, but, according to Modern Healthcare, this year employers and their workers will pay close to $900 billion for insurance coverage, making it reasonable for consumers to expect some upfront accountability.

According to Forbes, Dan Munro, pricing transparency is the healthcare story of the year.

In May, the Washington Post announced that the federal government would release the prices hospitals charge for the 100 most common inpatient procedures. When The Post reviewed what some hospitals charge, there were vast differences in price. According to the article, “Experts attribute the disparities to a health system that can set prices with impunity because consumers rarely see them — and rarely shop for discounts.” If I had to guess, I would say that 2014 will be filled with consumers demanding more information like the government’s reports to see what they are really paying for, causing hospitals to do more research on their end for the “best prices.”

Transparency in other industries has become so natural and expected; I think it will only be a matter of time before consumers demand more transparency in healthcare. They want to know what they are paying and for what services…. in advance.

What do you think about transparency?  Will the healthcare community be able to provide it? Where do you see this heading?

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Preparing for Successful Communications During an IPO

The U.S. IPO market is building momentum, and listings through the third quarter of 2013 have already outpaced the total number of IPOs for all of 2012.  Healthcare is leading this trend.  Based on the EY Global Trends Report Q3 2013, North America reported 36 healthcare IPOs during the first nine months of 2013 compared with 22 in real estate and 20 in technology, the next two most active sectors.  The largest IPO in the third quarter of 2013 was a healthcare company – Envision Healthcare Holdings Inc., raising $1.1 billion with its listing on the New York Stock Exchange.  At 9.3 percent, the median first-day return from healthcare companies outperforms the median return for all U.S. IPOs of 5 percent.  This strong market performance is expected to continue into 2014. 

A strong industry profile helps a company achieve a successful IPO.  Given SEC regulations and quiet period restrictions, companies planning to go public need to consider their communications strategies well in advance of an IPO.  Once a company announces its intention to go public and files a registration statement with the SEC, management will need to review its communications policies and procedures.  The SEC generally allows companies to continue their established communications protocols to support standard business activity.

Ongoing communications for healthcare companies is particularly crucial.  Corporate communications departments have important audiences to consider beyond the investor and analyst communities – physicians and medical staff, referrers, employees, patients, B2B partners, regulators, and the general public.  Companies with well-established communications procedures have a better chance of maintaining those policies and tactics for a more consistent flow of routine company news during the IPO process.

The head of communications for a pre-IPO company needs to demonstrate a solid track record of press release protocols, industry event participation, marketing and adverting strategies, and social media activity.  And because healthcare companies often face outlier challenges – such as negative patient events, poor regulatory surveys, medical malpractice claims and above average union interest – having a solid and proactive communications strategy will help prepare the company to weather those storms.

After a company files its registration statement with the SEC, even basic PR initiatives that were not previously part of a company’s regular communications plan can pose challenges.  The quiet period during an IPO does not necessarily mean NO communications, but companies need to approach their communications strategies thoughtfully long before they consider their IPO.

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Communicating for the C-Suite: How to write for the CEO

Want to write something fresh for the CEO? Scratching your head over how to make the CFO seem more multi-dimensional?  Tired of having legal eviscerate your press releases?

Communicating for the C-suite can be challenging.  Corner offices tend to be populated by strong minded, fast thinking, hard driving professionals who don’t have a lot of time for rewrites or coming up with just the right word.

That’s our jobs as professional communicators.  But it doesn’t take many emails from the C-suite to realize there is a big difference between writing well and writing well for a particular person.

I hope to do several posts in the coming weeks looking at how to communicate for the C-suite, which can be a place of very varied personalities and tastes.  We’ll start with the CEO.

First, it’s important to consider the person in the corner office – and the character as well. Typically, chief executives are the visionary of the organization: proactive thinkers and, often, charismatic entrepreneurs.  Consider what your CEO is like as a person and a professional, and seek to understand his or her voice and priorities.

Next, think about their main audiences.  This can be tricky, because chief executives are often the face of the organization and the lead spokesperson to many – if not most – stakeholders. Focusing on a CEO’s main external audiences, you’ll likely want to consider customers (not necessarily end users), investors, competitors and media on the list; for CEOs of publicly traded companies, add analysts, shareholders, regulators and the financial media.

Lastly, consider the primary concerns for a chief executive and you’ll have the topics about which he or she will most need to communicate.  (And if a topic is not a primary concern, consider if the CEO should speak to it all: CEOs are strategists, so keep their communications well above mundane tactical matters). Company heads are generally focused on “big picture” matters like growth, strategic opportunity and performance. And more so than others in the executive suite, they are sensitive to reputation and perception issues, and often more attentive to the company’s relationships and strategic partners.

On the quirky side, that focus on relationships can sometimes make CEOs the more emotional members of the executive team.  Unlike the uber-analytical CFO or legalistic general counsel, CEOs often approach their jobs more personally and can be sensitive to criticism.  They are prone to middle of the night revelations (and emails) and are more likely to be hurt (or infuriated) by a headline they find disagreeable.

So if the phone rings at 5:30am with a last minute edit to a press release, just remember: writing for a chief executive is an honor.  It provides the professional communicator an opportunity to see into the mastermind behind a company, and it allows you to contribute at a very high level. But never try to make them fit your style or voice.  Approach your writing assignment for a CEO with his or her personality, concerns and audiences in mind, and you’ll find yourself on the way to a fantastic final piece.

 

 

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View from the Top: New Study Reveals CEO Perceptions on Communications

I recently read a new survey published by the Arthur W. Page Society, The CEO View: The Impact of Communications on Corporate Character in a 24×7 Digital World, that shared insight from interviews with 20 leading CEOs of Fortune 50 companies on their opinions about strategic communications and the changing role of Chief Communications Officers (CCOs) in today’s companies.

The commissioned research is an update to the Society’s 2007 study The Authentic Enterprise assessing the strategic importance of communications to CEOs in building brands and corporate reputation.

There are a lot of great insights in the report. Here are just a few key findings from the study and implications for CCOs that I found particularly relevant in today’s global business climate:

Social media gains (more) respect. CEOs no longer view social media as “emerging” technologies but an imperative communications channel to engage with various stakeholders. They are looking for CCOs to understand, interpret and manage social media in a way that explains the impact on their business.

Character, reputation and values define corporations. Increased transparency has led CEOs to place a greater emphasis on understanding the diverse perspectives of internal and external stakeholders to help shape corporate identity and reputation.  This is good news for CCOs, who have an opportunity to define and communicate company values that are authentic to the organization. For more insights from the Society on aligning corporate values, read here.

Hard-data rules. In this data-obsessed world, CEOs want better and more intricate measurement of their company’s reputation. The report calls this “high-resolution measurement” and CCOs need to have the right tools at hand, such as reputation scorecards or dashboards, to measure the impact of strategic communications in executing the business plan. The study indicates some CEOs “report measuring as many as 30 different brand attributes as experienced by as many as 15 discrete stakeholder groups.”

24/7 news cycle. The “always on” news cycle with the rise of social media and online news outlets is definitely here to stay. CEOs understand the urgency to respond to issues with the speed of information itself and the complexity of addressing many constituents with appropriate communication. CEOs value the role of CCOs in “proactively building relationships with all stakeholders via all available channels” to establish goodwill and help protect corporate reputation in the event of a crisis.

Do these findings resonate with your CEO? How do they impact your role as a communications executive? Share your thoughts and comments.

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Community-based Nonprofits: Communicating Goals to Maximize Fundraising Potential

With the economic sluggishness of the past few years, nonprofits have been hit hard.  Charitable giving is one of the first areas where patrons and donors cut back on their budgets, and federal funding through grants also decreases significantly at the same time.  Small, community-based charities supporting local programs like community libraries, children’s education, outreach to the elderly, and similar goodwill initiatives face overwhelming challenges because they rely so heavily on volunteers for everything – from board participation to the execution of day-to-day tasks and fundraisers. These volunteers often commit their time, which is usually limited, out of passion for the cause, but it can leave serious gaps in the diverse expertise needed to manage a nonprofit effectively during such difficult times. This gap can have a direct impact on the nonprofit’s fundraising success. Strategic communications is the key to maintaining your momentum with donations from corporate sponsors and individual patrons. fundraising potential

Here are three recommendations for boards of community nonprofits to consider which can dramatically improve fundraising efforts:

1)   Define the nonprofit’s goal for year. Corporate sponsors and individual donors like to know how the nonprofit will use their money. Nonprofits often rely on the goodwill message outlined in their mission statements, but this can sound generic to a donor who may not have the same passion for your cause. Tell the community exactly how you plan to use their money to address a specific and/or urgent need. Will you buy books? Will you add a new demographic to your program? Will you expand your services to reach an additional need in the community? When patrons understand how their donation will help the nonprofit achieve a very real goal, they will be more willing give.

2)  Plan your donation strategy. Decide at the beginning of your fiscal year how much money you need to raise, and define how much you can expect from grants, local businesses, and individual donors. Establish a base amount for each source, and build your fundraising drives around those targets. Give plenty of advance notice when asking for patron donations and corporate sponsorships so that they have time to work those donations into their budgets. With sufficient advance notice, businesses and individuals will often give more money when the time comes for the donation.

3)  Utilize social media to build charitable awareness and to communicate your annual goal.  Word-of-mouth is an excellent way for the board and volunteers to generate awareness among the people they know, but it can’t reach everyone. To broaden your prospects of attracting more donors, use FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media outlets.  It is a cost-effective and easy conduit to reach a much greater number of people. Broad-based awareness that comes from a clear and consistent messaging will develop additional volunteers, participation in and attendance at fundraisers, and donations from the public.

These recommendations are not revelationary, and larger nonprofits usually have the staff, skill set, and infrastructure to incorporate them very easily into their annual planning. Due to limited staff and volunteers, smaller community-based nonprofits find it more difficult to dedicate the time and commit the resources to make mid-term and longer-term advance planning and fiscal organization a part of their routine board meetings, but boards that can shift their focus from near-term activity planning to mid- to long-term strategy will see a dramatic increase and ease in their fundraising efforts.

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Breaking Through the Noise: Secrets of Successful Hospital Internal Communication

It’s no secret hospitals have a lot on their plates these days. From the adoption of electronic health records and the transition to ICD-10 to the uptick in mergers and acquisitions, the need to effectively communicate with employees and physicians has never been greater.

Unfortunately, neither has the noise level. Gone are the days when employee newsletters Hospital Internal Communicationsand town hall meetings were the only tools a hospital communicator needed in her arsenal. Today’s caregivers are being asked to do more than ever before. With stretched attention spans and competing initiatives, it takes creativity – and persistence – to make an impression. Here are six tips for making sure your message not only lands, but is heard loud and clear.

1)      One size doesn’t fit all. Today’s hospital workforce is more diverse than ever before. Multiple generations work side by side. Some employees sit at a desk all day while others rarely sit at all. The wide variety of roles within a single organization alone requires communicators to take stock of their audiences and find unique communication vehicles to reach each one. While email may be tried and true for some, it won’t likely do the trick for busy nurses. Consider using break-room posters, videos, screensavers, text messaging and stand-alone websites accessible from home or mobile devices to share information with harder-to-reach employees.

2)      Managers are make-or-break. Studies show that employees are more likely to retain information when it’s shared by their manager. However, organizations often fail to give managers the tools they need to be truly effective communicators. Take the time to educate your managers on the issue and answer their questions before charging them with cascading information. Don’t forget to establish a feedback loop to gather information on how messages were received and answer follow-up questions.

3)      Keep it conversational. There’s no doubt social media is changing the way we communicate – even when using more traditional platforms. Messages are becoming shorter and more conversational and organizations are becoming increasingly transparent. Embrace these trends when establishing messages around internal initiatives. Most employees won’t need to know the nitty gritty details of your new bar code scanning system, but they will want to know what it does and why you’ve adopted it. Keep your messages simple and informal. Nix the jargon, lean on graphics and make it fun.

4)      Can you hear me now? With all of the demands on today’s nurses and physicians, don’t assume your communication landed. Similar to external marketing campaigns, repetition of key messages using multiple channels is key to audiences retaining it. One report shows that nearly 60 percent of respondents will believe information if they hear it three to five times.

5)      Got message? While frequency is important –don’t make the mistake of communicating just to check a box. Make sure you have something to say. Otherwise, employees will tune you out and recapturing their attention becomes even more of a challenge.

6)      Measure. Measure. Measure. An internal campaign should have the same measurement component as your external campaigns. Establish baseline awareness and set measurable targets to gauge progress before you begin communicating. Use giveaways or other incentives to drive website traffic or event attendance and monitor website or Intranet traffic and email click-throughs. Also consider using annual tools like performance reviews or employee surveys to measure retention and understanding of key information.

Done right, internal communications can be immensely challenging – and intensely rewarding. Do you have success stories to share?

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When Two Worlds Collide: M&A Communications During the Integration Challenge

As a professional with extensive experience in international mergers and acquisitions, I often hear that mergers and acquisitions rarely live up to the original intent behind the deal.  Bain & Company recently published a report of their findings from research they conducted on M&A activity from 2000 to 2010, and they found that companies that pursued mergers and acquisitions as part of their growth strategy outpaced the growth of companies that did not.  Most interestingly, companies with more aggressive M&A strategies outperformed companies with moderate M&A activity.

Negative sentiment toward M&A is largely framed by the big failures – like the AOL and When Two Worlds Collide: M&A Communications Time Warner merger, the largest merger in corporate history. (At the time of that merger, I was working with Vodafone, based in the U.K., on their hostile bid for Mannesmann in Germany, an acquisition also discussed as the largest merger on record.  With AOL Time Warner’s friendly announcement, the Vodafone Mannesmann merger which followed soon thereafter became the largest hostile bid on record.) The reasons for failed mergers are many, but in my experience, successful integration of the merged companies poses one of the greatest obstacles to success.

Companies generally do a very good job of defining the rationale for an M&A deal and conducting the required due diligence to ensure the right fit.  Unfortunately, after investing substantial money, time, and energy into making the deal happen, management teams often fail to plan adequately for assimilating the two corporate cultures into a new cohesive unit.  Constructive integration is doable, and management teams can plan ahead for a successful M&A outcome:

1)      Assign a dedicated team focused exclusively on the tasks following the announcement.  As an extension of the due diligence team and within the dictates of regulatory guidelines related to the industry and the specific transaction, this integration team should be appointed as soon as management begins its due diligence so that the team has ample time to develop a comprehensive integration plan.  You might think this timing is premature given that so many deals don’t make it through the due-diligence process.  But companies lose valuable time and momentum when they wait until the closing of the deal.  One critical mistake in the integration process:  management teams spend too much time trying to find the answers to very important questions after the deal is signed when they should be executing decisions made far in advance.

2)      Define how the merged company will look in six months and in one year, and then develop the action plan that will get you there. Companies have very specific objectives with each merger or acquisition.  Make sure the merged company stays true to those objectives, and consider the impact those objectives will have on every business unit, employee, and customer, and be aware of the changes that will have to occur to reach the six-month and one-year corporate vision.

3)      Test the action plan to ensure that it matches the original rationale and objectives of the merger.  Make sure you consider all scenarios and outcomes.  Integration teams can reduce the risk of failure when they identify the pitfalls before they happen.

4)      Consider your audiences.  Employees, customers, and business partners have firm loyalties, and a merged company must develop strategies to win these individuals and groups over to a new corporate culture and brand.

5)      Develop effective messaging.  Just because you understand the rationale of the merger doesn’t mean everyone else does.  Each audience has unique motivators that bring them to the brand.  Some of these motivators are rational and some are emotional.  Effective messaging will be consistent across all groups, but it will also be specific to address the motivators of each group.

Change is hard.  Even though the benefits of the merger or acquisition are real, employees will have adjustments to make and new relationships to build.  Customers may be asked to embrace a new, or at least modified, brand despite the fact that they love the old one.  Business partners may question their relevance in the newly merged entity.  These are just some of the audiences.  Integration strategy plans for all these scenarios – and many more!  It is about more than announcing the deal in an email.  A successful integration plan brings people together as a team to appreciate the value of the newly merged or acquired company.

M&A can bring dynamic opportunities to a company:  expanded markets, diverse customers, innovative technologies, and new products.  Companies need not fear M&A activity as long as management understands the merger is not completed with the announcement or closing of the deal.  The real work has just begun.  With appropriate advance planning and timely implementation of the integration plan, companies can improve their competitive strength with sales growth, profit growth, and shareholder value.

 

 

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Out with the Old, In with the New: 15 communication resolutions for professionals

In an effort to shake a holiday hangover and get back into a work routine, I found myself reading quite a bit last week, trying to catch up on national and world events.

As I reviewed a host of local and national publications and websites, I noticed my inner editor was tripping over some perennially tired and lazy writing conventions – as well as a few absolute misuses of language. 

To balance the curmudgeon inside me, I made sure to “like” and “share” the sharply constructed and well executed news stories I came across. Then I jumped on a soap box and jotted down a few new year’s resolutions for writers (and myself, as we are all susceptible to bad habits from time to time).

Five Words to Strike From Your Writing

Irregardless.  It’s not a real word, period. Try regardless or irrespective.

Should.  Some people may not be put off by this word, but for those who are, “should” reads like an admonishment or shaming.  Best to stay away from it.

That.  Sure, this demonstrative pronoun has its place … but not 15 times in a 300-word press release.  Try striking it from your drafts and see if you miss it.  You won’t.

Pleased.  I don’t have hard research on this, but anecdotally, I find a ridiculous amount of corporate communications contain quotes about how “pleased” and “delighted” a CEO is about the launch of a new business unit or the hiring of a new executive. Surely the CEO has something more strategic to say – like how the business unit will allow the company increase market share or the new hire will oversee execution of corporate growth objectives.

There.  As with “that” above, this sometimes adverb/sometimes pronoun has a place, but it often results in passive voice (I’ve written about this evil before) and is the hallmark of ineffective and non-persuasive writing.

Four Words to Consider More Often (these are just a few personal favorites)

Incumbent. I love the various and related meanings to this word, from obligatory to leaning to currently residing.

Paucity. An interesting alternative to two other great words: scarcity and dearth (all three of which beat “lack”).

Opaque.  A personal favorite.  I use this in place of obscure, obtuse or “hard to understand”:  “I don’t mean to be opaque, but the overwhelming data speaks for itself.”

Eschew.  This simple word slips into the place of “shun” for a much more dramatic impact.

Three Habits to Adopt

Writing thank you notes – by hand.  I don’t know anyone who isn’t impressed by a handwritten expression of appreciation.

Leaving your phone silenced AND out of sight.  Productivity increases in meetings (including family meals) in which smart phones are not present.

Writing shorter sentences.  I love long, complex and compound sentences – but I also like diagramming sentences and doing Scrabble puzzles in my head; I’m clearly not normal.  Studies have proven that comprehension and retention is better when content is built on shorter sentences.  If you have to take a breath in the middle of a sentence as it’s read aloud, you probably need to shorten it.

Two Habits to Drop

Late night business emails. Again, I don’t have hard data on this, but I would bet most business people think their best work is done during the day and in the office (wherever their office may be). Work product delivered late at night sends a message that you’ve squeezed the work in after you focused on more important projects.

Insulting social media posts.  Between the primaries, the election and Chik-fil-A, 2012 presented a full year of opportunities to alienate “friends” on social media.  I understand that political and personal are interrelated for many folks – and I respect that – but check yourself before insulting someone’s beliefs on social media.  If you wouldn’t make a comment to their face or in  front of your mother or daughter, don’t post it.

One Website to Visit More Often

BBC.co.uk  As a news source, this site can be interpreted as being somewhat left-leaning.  But for crisp, accessible writing and a world perspective that is sometimes missing in U.S. news, the Brits offer a great alternative.

There you have it – 15 resolutions for the new year.  What would you add – or take away?

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A New Year’s Resolution for Defining and Nurturing Organizational Culture

The holiday season brings chocolate covered pretzels, gift baskets and popcorn tins! It also means office gatherings which, for some offices, may be the only formal employee gathering throughout the year. In recognition of the holidays, Lovell Communications Inc. enjoyed a wonderful dinner and time of laughter and fellowship last week.  Toward the end of our dinner, we each gave our personal thank you to the group for a year of quality work and meaningful results for our clients.  Those kinds of impromptu moments set the tone and help define a strong organizational culture.

I am reminded of a presentation by Bob Higgins, CEO of Barge Waggoner Sumner & Cannon, Inc., at The Executive Learning Network.  Mr. Higgins spoke eloquently about corporate communications and how it is the thread that weaves a company together.  As public relations professionals, we know this better than most.

As you enter into a new year, here are some tips to keep in mind as you cultivate and nurture your company’s culture:

  • A message sent does not always equal a message received.  Try communicating through more than one mode, because the recipient is the one who assigns meaning to the message. With some folks, a telephone call might be preferred over an email.
  • We are all in business. Recognize that everyone around you is also working hard and making sacrifices. Metrics that reward employees and companies are sure to help keep everyone motivated.
  • With the new year comes new opportunities.  Make sure everyone in the organization knows the company’s guiding principles and mission. Not every new business opportunity will be a perfect fit, so make sure you and your staff have the patience and the discernment to know what’s right for your organization.
  • Take time to teach and coach.  This is incredibly important in both good and bad moments, especially if you’re the leader of an organization. Find ways to help your coworkers become stronger, and partner with coworkers who can teach you a thing or two.  You’d be surprised how much you can learn!
  • My favorite part of the Higgins’ presentation was:  know your purpose.  We are all like pencils. The most important thing about you is on the inside. You’re equipped to correct mistakes, and you can’t do anything without being held up.  Life has a way of making you go through an occasional sharpening, not to mention making you encounter multiple kinds of surfaces.  Your job is to leave your mark!

 

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A Big Turn On: WORDS

One of my colleagues, who is famous for the provocative and razor-sharp use of her vast vocabulary, used a word the other day and, while I knew what it meant, I am certain I had never heard anyone actually use it in ordinary conversation. It rolled between my ears and made me smile.

When discussing a particular comment made by an individual, she asked me to keep in mind that, “he is quite hyperbolic.” Having spent more than 25 years in healthcare communications I was, just for a second, confused. Was this some kind of reaction or result of being, perhaps, in a hyperbaric chamber? Was this related to bariatric surgery?

Not at all. But I was reminded of how charmed I am by the precise use of words and the origin of phrases. So much so, that years ago, I tried to create and sell a TV “short” called WordPlay. Nashville’s Kitty Moon Emery helped me with this video (I believe it might have even been shot on film!) It was great fun.

Got any words or phrases that perk you up?

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