What does it mean to be 'Significant'?
Updated: Jun 28, 2022
When I first started out in corporate communications I was taught "Always aim to be first. If you can't be the first, be the biggest. If you can't be the biggest, be the best."
Being first to do something is an unassailable position - it can never be taken away from you. Being biggest is still a strong position, since to usurp it would require significant investment on the part of the competitor who is trying to displace you. Being best is the weakest of the three, since 'best' is largely a subjective opinion.
This is still good advice for external communication - press releases, media pitches and other forms of communication still rely on this trusted formula.
However, I believe that 'Significance' in communication goes far beyond positioning.
Ultimately, communication is a strategic function of business. The way an organization communicates and the topics on which it communicates are the bedrock of its reputation.
That's why the first question I like to ask about any communications initiative is 'Why?' What's the objective of the outreach? How does it move the organization's strategy forward?
After all, if you can't answer that question then you can't determine the objective of the outreach in a meaningful way. And if you can't determine the objective, then you can't measure the results effectively.
Significance in communication means that the outreach is aligned with the organization's wider strategy and is crafted to move that strategy forward. The objectives may be intangible (awareness, understanding, alignment) or tangible (sales, conversion, investment, policy changes), but if the objectives don't match the strategy then the communication outreach is, in a very real sense, insignificant.
The modern communications landscape is incredibly cluttered. The profusion of channels and devices that has emerged over the past couple of decades has transformed communication. It has shortened attention spans, decreased the cost of entry and increased reputation risk. It has also resulted in an enormous amount of background noise.
Cutting through that clutter requires investment and investment goes, quite rightly, to those functions that support the success of the organization. When budgets are tight, it's often the marketing and communications functions that feel the greater impact. Practitioners often complain about this - difficult times call for more communication, not less.
But if those practitioners have not demonstrated their ability to move the strategy forward and contribute in a measurable and meaningful way to the organization's success, then who is to blame when their budgets are reduced?