Storytelling school

Storytelling, business fluidity, employee communications among key lessons from CommsWeek 2022

Ragan Communications Week 2022, held November 1-7, was overflowing with takeaways to inform the communicator’s 2023 playbook. Peer-to-peer conversations were abundant during this important industry week, which included the Future of Communications conference in New York.

CommsWeek Co-Chairs Diane Schwartz, CEO of Ragan, and Tiffany Guarnaccia, CEO of Kite Hill PR and Founder of CommsWeek, share their top gleanings from the week:

Diane Schwartz, CEO, Ragan

Diane Schwartz, CEO, Ragan Communications

Guanaccia: Congratulations to Ragan for a fantastic communications week. One of the big takeaways from me was the power of storytelling. Today more than ever, the best communicators are storytellers. Some of the sessions covered how to make sure your story is worth telling internally and externally. The world’s best communicators know that employees are our brand’s primary advocates. We have to involve them.

Schwartz: So true. And that should go without saying, but I say it: transparency with employees is essential. We’ve heard so many speakers say that employees can handle bad news better than uncertainty. Communicate early and often, and when it comes to storytelling, don’t be boring! A popular tweet during Communications Week was that storytelling is data with a soul. I like this. Tiffany, what else struck you at the Future of Comms conference?

Guanaccia: Measurement is a recurring topic that emerged again during Communications Week 2022. We are constantly evaluating new strategies, emerging communication channels and new measurement techniques. When thinking about the value of public relations, many communicators are rethinking what it means. Some agency leaders, like MikeWorldWide president Bret Werner, have pointed out that we need to rethink the top tier. Traditionally, when you think of the highest level, you think of outlets like the WSJ, CNN, or NY Times. Today, a placement on a key blog or a mention on TikTok could attract the right audiences and drive results, especially for mainstream brands.

Schwartz: Back to internal communications for a moment, I find this statistic from one of our Staffbase sponsors quite enlightening: 75% of internal communicators spend the majority of their time “getting stuff out” – this underlines how much communicators need to spend from order taker to strategist. They need to meet the moment – the theme of this year’s CommsWeek – and ensure they spend more time on strategy beyond their own department.

Guanaccia: So true, Diane. They need to be more comfortable in the business. This is an area that Ragan strongly promotes to his audience.

Schwartz: Yes, business fluency is one of the most important skills for communications managers – understanding how your business works, what drives results and outcomes. You can take small steps like spending time with your CFO and asking questions that might take you out of your comfort zone, but will put you on a good footing as a business partner.

Tiffany Guarnaccia, CEO, Kite Hill PR

Tiffany Guarnaccia, CEO, Kite Hill PR

Guanaccia:: CommsTech was another hot topic and it will grow in importance. I talked about it in my session. We discussed the new communications technology stack and the importance of embracing agility. We must be agile in theory and in practice. Successful communications programs require a high degree of agility and the ability to pivot quickly based on the news cycle or in response to a crisis. At Kite Hill PR, we leverage a workflow that models agile development. It was interesting to see that some participants are taking a similar approach and adding project management software platforms to their own communication technology stack.

Schwartz: I enjoyed hosting a session with the communications directors of Dow Jones (Jennifer Thurman), the United States Chamber of Commerce (Michelle Russo), and Columbia Business School (Amy Jaick). Amy pointed out something that I think all communicators should keep in mind, which is that some of the best communication strategies are invisible. The absence of crisis and chaos, the story that did not run, the CEO who did not have to take the hot seat, all of this is to be credited to savvy communicators.

Guanaccia: I completely agree with this statement. Investing in continuous human effort to build trust and maintain and enhance a company’s reputation is essential to a company’s long-term success.

Schwartz: During the week of communications, there was a lot of shared ideas and curiosity around the role of communications in ESG (environment, social and governance) efforts. I thought Catherine Blades Hernandez of SAIC said it well during the fireside chat when she said, “ESG is a way to show that your trust is earned.

Guanaccia: There is no better role in an organization than communications to lead the way.

Schwartz: That’s a great way to end this conversation, Tiffany!

Mark your calendars for Communications Week 2023 the week of November 6-10. Go to www.commsweek.com for early updates.

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