Last week, my client (and friend) challenged me to tell him what it is we do. I answered that we help businesses be better at digital communications to get somewhere better than they are – “you know, to achieve their own ‘big leap’, get it?”
He replied that’s not what he pays us for.
Which made me stop and think. and write this post. (For the record it did not go unnoticed that this is a classic case of the cobbler’s shoes.)
Why People Pay Us
All businesses start with an idea on the back of the proverbial cocktail napkin, often as a result of an unsolved problem in the marketplace. In order for that idea to metamorphose into a profitable organization with a tangible product/service and intangible benefits, that idea needs to be articulated and communicated to many types of people along the way – investors, lenders, team members (product development, research, sales, operations, marketing), and prospects.
Some ideas never make it past the cocktail napkin because it takes a lot of energy. Writing it on the napkin is the easy part.
Given this, the ability to articulate ideas is pretty central to any business.
“Articulating ideas” is a broad statement so let me break that down before I continue. Articulating ideas is more than just the idea of the business itself, it’s the ability to influence and motivate the people you are trying to reach. It means not only using the right words and visuals, but the right channels.
For example, if a loved one passed away, you wouldn’t send a message via text to notify next of kin. You’d use the phone. When I resigned a job, I flew halfway across the country to do it in person. These are simple examples, but good idea communication means understanding nuance, using, to quote someone I refuse to mention here “good words, I have good words,” and knowing how and when to share these thoughts and ideas.
I have had the distinct pleasure to work with many CEOs of various business and leadership models. Some were very focused and singular. others liked to wrap ideas in other ideas, layered on top of other ideas. In my own personal sample pool of companies I’ve worked with, clear > muddy every single day. Hard to argue that point. Keeping ideas simple is harder than it sounds, just ask Blaise Pascal who wrote
“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced up to 336 layoffs last Fall – an idea that was aimed at boosting growth but obviously was going to make 336 families very unhappy. The announcement needed to be crafted carefully. It would obviously spread very quickly and he had to reach the ones directly affected first. They made phone calls (and voice mail) followed by an email. If you try to schedule 336 meetings, obviously rumors will start flying and the word will get around anyway, so this was likely the best route. The email was to the point and empathic. It explained the background of the thought process and why it was so important in an effort to give those who lost their jobs some closure and to quell investor speculation.
Used or repurposed ideas
Airbnb came on the market in 2007, with an idea VRBO has had since 1995. Suddenly, they have the brand recognition, huge valuation, and attention of the media. They’re being given credit for pioneering the sharing economy. Their web experience is (was, until VRBO updated) superior to VRBO and their content solved problems – such as “what neighborhood is right for me?” – something VRBO hadn’t been doing.
This sounds good but explore a little further and you’ll discover Airbnb has yet to make a profit whole VRBO does. What is Airbnb doing right that gives them the brand recognition but wrong that makes them unprofitable to date? They have some challenges to sort out so it’s too soon to answer that question other than to remark: It’s hard to have new ideas, so if you’re launching something that is a remake of something else, it better be a lot better.
Some CEOS can’t see the forest for the trees. When the big idea is missing, so are opportunities.
This isn’t to say not to get buried in the details. the more information you can provide, the more transparent you can be, the better. The challenge is in presenting that information. How does it get trickled out, or organized? Is it an email campaign? A white paper? Website content? How does it get indexed and searched? How can we help our audiences achieve their own goals of informing themselves before they have to pick up the phone? and what is that point where they are willing to? Or, can we do it without the personal touchpoint?
A few years ago, Mark Cuban said you shouldn’t hire a PR firm. I’m ridiculously late to that conversation so I won’t dredge up this whole debate and of course, many in the industry have already argued his point. In fact, I specifically did not read them while I wrote this so it wouldn’t influence what I’m writing:
PR is more than getting stories placed and having reporters interview CEOs. PR is communicating ideas and if ideas are central to business, then it stands to reason, good PR is central to your business.
Enough about me. Why do people pay YOUR company?[ssba]