Talking points

Amachine run amok injures one of your
employees. Dozens of newspaper and
television reporters immediately descend on your company headquarters, looking for blood. What can you say or do that
will minimize the impact of that unfortunate
accident, while portraying your company as
the compassionate company it is? Do words
matter at a time like this? You bet they do —
and they should begin with a competent
communications department.

“Crisis communications are important to
most businesses,” says Greg Blase, director
of academic programming at Kent State
University. “If something happens — a plant
accident, an employee injured — there’s a
need for communication, right away.”

Most companies work hard to ensure that
their integrity, credibility and reputation are
protected. When a crisis strikes, they can
issue statements, provide updates through
the Internet, hold media briefings or even
issue statements through webcasts. All
require professional communicators who
possess a strategic mindset along with
accomplished writing and presentation skills.

Besides being adequately prepared to handle a crisis, strong communicators are more
important now than ever in business, especially since current and future technologies
demand strong communication skills.

Smart Business talked with Blase about
the benefits of good communications.

Why are communications so vital to a company’s success?

With the high-paced technical life we lead,
there will always be a strong need for communications. It is both a learned and an
acquired skill. A large company needs to
communicate with a variety of different contingencies — customers, stockholders,
donors, employees, local government and
sometimes even state government. It communicates to those audiences through news
releases, public relations, advertising,
employee newsletters or videos, special
events and more. Typically, the person who
must communicate business ideals, strategies and goals will be more of a business professional. A savvy CEO will realize that his or
her expertise is in running the company,
building the business and seeking out new markets. But he or she must also realize that
woven into that entire strategy is the need for
good communications. A smart company
will use its communications department to
take information and craft each message to
the particular market for which it’s intended.
For instance, everybody talks about technology today, but even if you possess this wonderful new technology, you’ve still got to let
people know about it. Because we see so
many people in high positions who don’t
know how to communicate well, I would
counsel upper managers to rely on their communications department. Find the right people for it, staff it intelligently, and use those
people as a management resource so that
when anything occurs that requires communication, trained and educated professionals
can respond appropriately.

What about communications that don’t
involve a crisis?

The CEO of a company doesn’t need to be
a master linguist, but he or she needs to convey the right message clearly so it’s not taken
the wrong way and so that the audience
understands not only the words but the
intent. That’s where strong communication
comes in. Companies that want to create an identity for themselves have to wave the flag
when they develop a new product, get a new
client or hire a new person. All of that information has to be assembled and disseminated through the right channels — employees,
customers, the media — by a strong communications department.

Should corporate leaders take a communications course at a local college or university?

It really depends on the strengths and
weaknesses of the individual leader.
Executives weak at interpersonal communication and/or public speaking could most
likely benefit from these types of courses.
But the key is knowing your weaknesses. I
suspect many leaders and managers don’t
know they are weak in these areas or won’t
admit it to themselves or anyone else. A lot of
bright people are not good communicators.

Why the current emphasis on applied communications at regional college campuses?

Ohio is dealing with brain drain. Because
universities are tax-supported, it behooves
the state to try to keep its students in Ohio
after they graduate. The thinking is that
regional campus students are more place-bound, somewhat nontraditional and a little
bit older. They attend a regional campus
because they want to stay where they are.
That, in part, is why many universities are
expanding their curriculum to regional campuses. The governor has stated that he wants
everybody in Ohio to be able to get a degree
within 30 miles of his or her house. That’s a
difficult promise. Having a four-year degree
such as applied communications at a regional campus allows someone to study communications in more depth, closer to home. An
applied communications graduate has basic
skills in communication. The program offers
courses in organizational communication,
high-impact speaking, interpersonal communication, gender communication, writing and
design, so it’s an all-encompassing package. It
is not as in-depth as the advertising, journalism or public relations degree programs, but
sometimes, companies need people with a
broader education.

GREG BLASE is director of academic programming at Kent State University. Reach him at (330) 672-8290 or [email protected].