The main challenges for communications teams
Updated for 2021
Communication is no easy job to handle. It never has been, but due to the rise of technology and how it has influenced the media landscape, it seems to have become increasingly difficult to get the right story out to the right people.
We work in an amazing field, but there are some tough challenges that communications departments face regularly. From our experience working with hundreds of PR and Corporate Communications teams around the globe, most of these issues can be traced back to workflow, in this blog post we will talk about four of the most common ones we've noticed, regardless of industry, geography, or department size.
1. Messaging consistency across all brand touchpoints
The larger a company is, the tougher it is to keep a consistent story across all brand touchpoints. There are multiple rounds of approval, seniority levels, channels, and procedures. Something as simple as using an outdated messaging document could impact the consistency of your campaigns and have unintended consequences.
Internal communication flows
It’s important to set up transparent information flows between team members. Making sure all relevant stakeholders are involved in the process of developing and signing off messaging is one way to keep things consistent. As time-consuming as it may seem, it might end up saving you some headaches down the line. Come up with a list of who should be involved and assign roles to them (accountable, responsible, supporting, consulted, or informed). When you involve other departments or regions in the process of coming up with key messaging, you can bring out the nuances relevant to them. This will help everyone adopt the talking points agreed upon.
Just like internal audiences, external ones – clients, partners, shareholders, and media – must receive the same core message, but tailored to their needs. This process isn’t always easy, but the best way to nail the messaging is to know your audience (learn more about how to define your audiences in our guide to PR strategy and planning).
Another best practice to avoid inconsistencies is to keep all your content in the same place (somewhere you can easily publish and update your content) – this lets people know that whenever something new happens, they should look for it there. Wondering what that digital content hub could look like? Download our free newsroom inspiration guide to see how some of the world’s leading brands have structured theirs.
2. Routine tasks creating bottlenecks in the team
Most of us don’t notice the bottlenecks until they really become an issue – e.g. your to-do list is too long. You know how to go about everything in there, but you have no time. Sometimes you can get away with prioritizing and dropping some of the items in the list, others, the tasks you need to do directly impact the result of your communications efforts and they must happen. Servicing the media, for instance, is key to see earned media results, so you can’t afford to stop answering media inquiries.
Some of the tasks we often see becoming a problem for teams include:
- Publishing and distribute press releases.
- Upkeep of media lists.
- Answering media inquiries.
- Providing the media with the assets they need to publish their stories.
Failing to provide answers on time or respond to a media inquiry can mean lost opportunities to build or protect your brand. The easiest way to spot bottlenecks is to look for the parts of the workflow that seem to be causing frustration among team members, and tasks taking longer to complete than they used to.
Your first reaction might be to throw more resources at it, hire more people, or get external help. While this helps, sometimes the answer is simpler – automate it. Organise your contacts and media lists in a contact management system, and log media requests centrally to be able to assign follow-ups. The benefits of this approach are two-fold: it removes manual work, and (provided you have the right tools) you’ll be able to monitor your contacts’ engagement based on their interactions with your content.
3. A scattered tech stack
When we say technology stack, we mean a set of tools and software components that help you run an application or project. The real issue here is not the tools themselves (there are great tools out there, but lots of them weren't built with the communicator's goals in mind) but how they work together. If they are disconnected, this affects the way teams work – and their output, too. Bouncing from one screen to another, switching tools, taking calls, replying to emails, going into meetings, writing press releases, preparing interviews, planning campaigns…
The truth is we’re not as good as we think we are at multitasking, but it’s important to differentiate between the types of distractions we have some control over and the ones where we don’t. The bad news is that a scattered PR stack can be a distraction, the good news is that it’s mostly self-imposed.
Teams often get to this point due to one or more of these factors:
- Legacy tools are kept just because that’s how things have worked.
- Tools are acquired as ad-hoc solutions and not with a goal-based approach.
- The communications team is using tools originally meant for marketers.
- There is a limited understanding of tech among key decision-makers.
Most people remain using these tools because they “do the job”, running the risk of adding too much manual work, creating bottlenecks, frustrating the team, and leaving room for mistakes that could have been avoided.
4. Measuring ROI
Measuring return on investment has been in communicators’ challenges lists for a long time. With online data on the rise, the cry for measurable results has become louder. Additionally, comms professionals face the question to provide ROI on their efforts more often. This requires a new mindset when reaching out to journalists and creating content for different channels.
Unlike marketing, where conversion is a go-to way to measure success, communications teams struggle to track the results of their PR and Corporate Communications activities. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. A clear, concrete, measurable goal should be the start. Your goals will inspire the metrics and the frequency with which you’ll track them – e.g.:
Goal: Establish X new relationships per month with both trade media and national journalists.
Metrics: New contacts added (measured monthly).
Next, focus on defining your target audience, format, structure, and distribution channels. When you send out your message, start to gather data immediately, sometimes that will give you insights into how things are going and you’ll be able to use them to optimize your content or campaign. Stay consistent in what you’re trying to monitor and eventually, you will gather enough data to compare across periods of time, locations, and angles.
Read more about which metrics are worth tracking and how you can do that: The essentials of PR measurement.
How do you address them in your organisation?
The things we listed above are common, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to solve them the same way. Before you start thinking about getting a media database tomorrow, take some time to think about how these challenges are preventing you from reaching your goals.
Check out some more insights we shared in our webinar “The foundations of a modern PR workflow” about how Enterprise teams can optimize their workflow and address these challenges.