One message does not fit all2008-04-22
On episode 335 of The Hobson and Holtz Report, Eric Schwartzman shared bits of an interview he conducted with Maureen Kasper, senior director of communication at Cisco Systems. In the interview, Maureen addressed an issue that I’ll be talking about during my session tomorrow at the New Communications Forum: the blurring of the line between internal and external communications.
We did create content that was different—here’s the external face to something and here’s the internal face to something. I don’t think you can do that any more. It’s the same. It’s better communication. You’re not worrying about, “Am I thinking externally or am I thinking internally?” What you’re thinking about is, “What’s our message?”
Maureen noted that Cisco employees once criticized the company when they perceived they were getting the same spin on messages as external audiences. Now, she says, it’s a strength. “It goes back to transparency. What you say externally has to be the same as what you say internally, and vice-versa. If not, you’ll get found out very quickly.”
I agree—and I disagree. The core message absolutely must be consistent. The days are long gone (not that this was prudent or ethical behavior when those days still existed) when you could deliver one message to employees and another to, say, investment analysts:
Employees: We’re merging with Acme in order to absorb a major competitor and bolster our earnings.
Analysts: We’re merging with Acme because of the natural synergies between the two organizations and because we’ll be able to better serve the marketplace working together.
However, I don’t agree with the notion that you can craft a single communication for each audience. Whether or not you share your external communications with employees, they’ll see it—or, at least, have access to it. The message to analysts ends in analyst reports which find their way into investment blogs, the media message is published on news sites and from there into the blogosphere.
But employees still need the internal spin, and I’m using that word in the constructive sense. In a merger, analysts care about the impact on value and share price. Employees may also care about that—particularly if they own stock—but they have more immediate concerns that aren’t on the minds of other publics (including local communities, NGOs, activist groups, the government, and so on). They want to know about the security of their jobs, the status of existing projects, where they’ll wind up in the revamped structure of the new company and whether their benefits will change.
Spinning stories (in the good way) to accommodate the unique interests of each constituency is at the heart of effective communication. It’s why we research the audiences before we craft the communications.
By the way, I’m absolutely certain they do this at Cisco Systems and that Maureen didn’t mean to imply otherwise. Her remarks just led me to want to articulate this point of view, which also argues for the continued need for some traditional communication. A single blog post from the CEO about the merger just won’t get the right information into the right hands. Targeted communication can start targeted conversations among publics with different interests.