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Claws-bared, Andy Holt, creative director at Words&Pictures, offers some feline philosophy on how to develop the best approaches to communicating organisational strategy

Recently, I stepped into the ring to do some public speaking malarkey. It’s something I’ve done many times before, but this opportunity (at the Milton Keynes Icomms Group) was a subject I have real passion for – namely: “How to creatively communicate your strategy and get cut-through to colleagues.”

Like all good visual speakers, I start with a few ill-judged metaphors, dodgy jokes and funny pictures, before getting down to the business of case studies and thought leadership.

When I started to muse on the subject, I needed some way of getting that all-important cut-through. I needed a metaphor or story that would capture the seriousness of strategic communication challenges. Something that would resonate with my audience of fellow professionals – the cream of internal communications.

That’s why I chose to talk about cats. Or more specifically…my family’s cats and the challenge of getting them through our newly installed cat flap.

This wasn’t quite the madness you may first think. I’m not a great lover of those motivational pearls of wisdom that continually rock up on LinkedIn, but I’m not averse to a good animal-related metaphor.

And so was born the Cat Flap Strategy®! My point was simple. We all encounter strategy in our everyday life, let alone corporate strategy. We have strategies for our careers, our future, relationships, wealth and happiness (we wish). We also have coping strategies for when it all goes off piste. In that context, why should communication strategy, and in particular strategy comms, be any different.

So, to prove the point, and get some of those cat-related cheap laughs, I focused on a microcosm of my home life and demonstrated how a creative communication strategy can be built around the challenge of getting cats to engage with the cat flap and enact the Cat Flap Strategy®.

I covered analysis of the problem, IC cat-tactics, campaign planning and delivery and even evaluation of the feline-related results. The point seemed to be made.

Of course this was just the warm up before talking about some real, non cat-related case studies. I must say at this point, whenever doing a talk, I always think it’s a good idea to draft in some help.

So, for some heavy-lifting back up, I roped in Direct Line Group’s Head of IC, Paul Diggins and easyJet’s Head of IC, Kate Connolly. Two nicer people you are unlikely to meet – both are inspirational professionals who know their stuff. We shared some thoughts on our work together to communicate strategy at T-Mobile, Direct Line Group (DLG) and easyJet. I also threw in a case study from Universal Pictures for good measure. What emerges through these various case studies were some common themes and approaches.

Notably, all start with the colleague in mind. Sometimes with strategy this can get lost within the desire to please the leadership, or can be held hostage to the tastes of the IC team and/or agency. All the examples show it is best to take time to understand what will fire the imagination of frontline colleagues, what language and imagery to use and what to avoid – like the plague.

We then touched on how best to bring it to life both visually and through a compelling narrative.

A simple tip here: consider your own capacity to absorb strategy. If you were also having to sell products, deal with customers or provide time critical support services, how much attention could you give to understanding strategy? Start with that end in mind and you’ll have a deeper understanding of how to best craft your message. It sounds a given, but it’s frequently not.

Planning is key, no matter the time constraints. Why is it that leadership can spend, what seems like years, developing strategy then expect it to be communicated in a matter of weeks with outstanding results? Whether it’s wholesale change, a slight tweak, or a run-for-the-hills strategy, plan it like a military campaign.

Pre-disposition and re-inforcement phases are as critical as the week you land the strategy. Too many strategic comms campaigns fail because the froth is blown all at once. What follows is purely tumbleweed communications. The cash is spent but the strategic deficit clearly visible. Regular intervention keeps the strategy alive.

But it goes wider. Often the strategic is seen as a stand-alone requirement. What easyJet, DLG and

T-Mobile demonstrated is that strategy goes deeper – direct relationships need to be drawn through all the communications.

When launching easyJet’s strategy, direct parallels were drawn in other communications such as an interactive customer experience game, tone of voice, crew proposition and other comms. All this helped cement the strategy and make it real for colleagues.

Results have been very convincing at easyJet where engagement scores rose from an earlier impressive 69% to an outstanding 89% as a direct result of the strategy campaign approach. Similar results were achieved at DLG and T-Mobile with more than 80% saying they understood their role within delivering the strategy.

Creativity in delivering comms strategy is paramount. “Strategy”, in itself, may sound boring but it doesn’t need to be. It’s all about change and therefore should be really exciting!

What it requires is imagination and a strong creative hook or concept that captures that excitement and distils the strategy down to a common thread that resonates with all. In the corporate context it requires a degree of confidence and bravery to push against the expected – but it needs to be done.

Man didn’t get to the moon via a rather average and slightly disappointing rocket! I’ve lost count of the various metaphors we’ve employed over the years. From families, rock bands, animated characters, journeys to the downright quirky, we’ve found that all-important creative hook. Something that people can grab hold of, understand and then relate to.

IC knows it has to compete in a media rich, all-pervasive environment to time-poor colleagues so any campaign needs to compete on these terms. No one channel cuts it any more and that goes as much for digital as print. What is required is an all-encompassing campaign that not only meets people where we want them to be, but where they are now. For most organisations this means a truly multi-channel approach.

But en route, don’t forget what’s already in your cupboard. Too often in the rush to communicate, it’s easy to ignore what’s under your nose. What assets do you already have? I’m not talking logos, brand bibles and creative bits and bobs, but more what the business is actually about and how you can improve how that connects with colleagues.

A good example here was some recent work Words&Pictures produced with Universal Pictures (UPIE). The project itself was an attraction and welcome campaign, but it has direct relevance to the strategic challenge. An organisation as famous as UPIE has plenty of content and a rich cinematic heritage. Yet their induction and welcome materials had little visibility of this. Working with UPIE’s internal communications manager, Jane Shaw and HR manager, Ewen MacPherson, we set about raiding the vaults and extensive back catalogue. As a result, Universal’s colleagues now sit, or stand, alongside famous film and TV characters. From Frankenstein to the Hulk, Bridget Jones to the Despicable Me minions, UPIE’s, award-winning induction materials reflect the excitement, energy and creativity of the media giant.

The result has seen the development of a creative and more personal programme set of tools, rolled out across the wider group with colleagues enthusiastically talking about their “unique induction experience”.

Hopefully, you’ve found these musings helpful and they’ve hit a chord. I genuinely believe communicating strategy can be fun no matter how serious, or big a deal it is (and it’s always a big deal).

If you want colleagues to remember only one thing about the strategy you need to cut through all the corporate fluff, make it personal, connect the dots and, above all, make it memorable.

I could say a lot more…but hey, those cats won’t feed themselves!

• Andy Holt is creative director at Words&Pictures and is not as cat obsessed as he sounds. Although, he does have a nice Catnote presentation – email him at [email protected]

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