Leader Volume 8, Number 5
Communication Skills For the Millennium
Marken is President of Marken Communications, Inc. in Santa Clara,
California (phone 408-986-0100; email email@example.com).
In the computer
industry, there have been thousands of articles written about what
will happen when computers tick off the first minute of January 1,
2000. Often called
the Year 2000 (Y2K) problem, the horror story goes that if
billions of lines of computer code arenít rewritten in time,
systems around the globe will come to a screeching halt bringing
virtually everything to its knees. All because of a date on the
calendar and a few lines of code.
But most industry
analysts feel disaster will be averted.
Companies and governmental agencies around the globe are
pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into taking corrective
actions so they can function in the 21st century.
todayís promotional and communications skills, programs and
activities function satisfactorily in the next century?
Today, most firms
and individuals practice very strong centralized control over
their communications activities.
Most of a company's public relations and advertising
efforts have been used to support the sales force and distribution
been directed outwardly to generate leads and build interest among
customers and prospects. The
goal was to sell products and services.
Directly or indirectly, communications success has been
measured by the ability to generate customers and sales.
organizational requirements are changing.
Management is beginning to understand that itís more
important to find, service and support existing customers rather
than focusing so much on getting new customers.
especially true as companies deal more on a global basis, moving
seamlessly across country borders.
They are finding that global customers want global service
and global communications. Increasingly,
they are dealing with the entire organization, not just pieces and
parts of the organization.
The same is true
in advertising and public relations.
Management wants clear, concise, global messages.
They want global programs and information dissemination,
not efforts that are cobbled together according to geography,
business units or divisions on a market-by-market basis.
But will this
marketing and sales support be sufficient in the new millennium? I don't think so.
individuals and organizations are developing new tools and skills. In a number of instances, they are actually taking the lead
in defining contact points--where and how customers and prospects
want to be contacted. They
are helping management determine what means or media should be
used and, perhaps increasingly, which customers should be
Most of our
attention and efforts have been focused on external
communications, getting the message out from the organization to
the customer and prospect. Few of us have really been concerned about the in-bound
traffic from customers and prospects.
Internal communications--making certain everyone in the
organization understands the company's goals and objectives--have
generally been slotted under human resources or treated as the
training ground to prepare people for the "real work" of
communicating with the marketplace.
though, management is beginning to realize that communications is
one of their most important assets and one of their most effective
managers are no longer simply asking for an ad to be
produced/placed, a data sheet to be designed and printed, a
release to be pumped out, an interview to be arranged or a press
event staged to promote a product or service.
communications efforts, activities and programs that surround,
enhance and lead individual products, brands and the organization. They want communications efforts and activities to become the
driving force for the entire organization to increase mindshare,
marketshare, sales and profits.
This shift is
relatively easy to understand if you analyze today's fast-moving
markets. Notebook and
desktop computers are on a 3-2-3 schedule.
Three months to design and produce, two months to get into
the market and three months to flush the products out of the
channel so the cycle can begin again.
Increasingly, computer systems are being produced
one-at-a-time, based on a customer's individual specifications and
that were historically redesigned and reintroduced annually are
now on a six-month cycle. Even
here customers have greater freedom in individualizing their
purchases. New men's
and women's clothing designs are introduced quarterly rather than
twice a year.
In every market,
companies begin developing their replacement products even before
the present units are available in the marketplace.
In this rapidly
changing environment, product differentiation is becoming
impossible. With the
increasing use of the Internet and Web, conventional distribution
channels are being challenged as individuals and organizations
move from Web site to Web site and company to company to find
appropriate product or solution features, availability and price.
anyone-anywhere environment; organizations have to add value to
their name, their products and their services.
They need to develop special one-on-one relationships with
customers and prospects, whether they are across town, across the
country or half way around the globe.
Communications now isn't simply a support activity, it's a
strategic lead function.
The 21st century
problem/challenge for communicators is how narrowly or broadly
they define their efforts and activities for the company and their
responsibilities to management. This doesn't mean they have to--or
should--control and/or manage everything that goes between the
organization, its customers and prospects, industry influences and
However, they do
have a responsibility to the firm's management and its employees
to do everything possible to ensure the image and brand message is
well understood and consistently communicated internally and
no longer focus strictly on what the organization sends out. Rather they need to focus on what the customer or prospect
receives. This is a
major shift because these individuals and organizations often
initiate the contacts directly with employees at all levels.
They also get inputs from industry advocates, the financial
community, governmental agencies, the media and other
customers/prospects that share similar wants, needs and
Quo Is Failing
no longer simply responsible for the tactical details--the
releases, the ads, the direct mail pieces, the literature, the
articles, the reviews, the event details and interview scheduling.
They must shift from only concerning themselves with
inside-out planning. They
must increasingly take on the added responsibility of
understanding the outside-in activities.
They have to develop recommendations and solutions for
management to make certain the image and brand message goes both
It's simple in
concept, but far-reaching in terms of the organization's success
Without a full
understanding of the responsibilities, and without constant
attention to every aspect of the strategic role communications
must play for today's global organization, it could be as
disastrous as January 1, 2000 will be for some computer systems.
In the Y2K
situation, computers without the fix will show their symptoms
without fixing an organizationís communications system, it could
be slow and painful...painful to watch, painful to experience.
too many organizations will continue to rely on their tactically
driven activities. They
won't stretch themselves to focus on their strategic