How often does a leader in security, crisis management, or business continuity find that their team is doing great things, but absolutely no one in the company knows anything about it?
In this episode of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast, Bryghtpath Principal & CEO Bryan Strawser and Senior Consultant Jennifer Otremba talk candidly about communications and awareness strategies in the first part of a three-part series about communication strategies. Topics discussed include communication and awareness strategies, creating an editorial calendar, content creation, and related topics.
Bryan Strawser: Jen, what are we doing here today?
Jen Otremba: Well, first of all, welcome back to Managing Uncertainty Podcast.
Bryan Strawser: Had a little bit of a break.
Jen Otremba: Yep, a little bit.
Bryan Strawser: We’ve been a little busy with some real work.
Jen Otremba: We have. But because of that, we have sort of come up with some ideas of what we want to talk about based on client needs. As we’ve been talking through this with several of our clients. So what we decided to kind of start talking about a little bit more and maybe have a whole series on, is communication.
Bryan Strawser: So we’re gonna talk about a couple different communication topics. I think we’re gonna start today with more of, I think, an overview of communication. Then, we’re gonna get into talking about communication and awareness planning. One of the bigger challenges that we see that we’ve helped a number of clients with over the last several years. Part two, Jen?
Jen Otremba: Yeah, part two, we’re gonna talk a little bit about crisis communication, so how to communication in the event of a crisis. During, before, after, that type of thing.
Bryan Strawser: Then, in part three, we’re gonna talk about the big launch. At different points of your business cycle, you’ll have the opportunity to launch a new product, a new service, a new campaign, maybe a new … It can be a new vision mission statement, a new EOC-
Jen Otremba: A new team, yeah.
Bryan Strawser: A new team.
Jen Otremba: Yeah.
Bryan Strawser: So we’re going to talk about how to prepare for that launch. How to use some of the communication tools that we’re going to talk about in part one and two, to really go out and launch that series.
Jen Otremba: Yeah.
Bryan Strawser: Launch that [inaudible 00:01:45] through the [inaudible 00:01:48].
Jen Otremba: Right. So I think some of the ideas around this really stemmed from just talking to some of our clients that we’ve been working with and understanding their needs. Kind of talking through … We have all of these great programs. We do all of these great things, but no one knows about it.
Bryan Strawser: Yeah it happens a lot where, I think, we have seen numerous times and I saw even early in my career in Security that companies would … Or teams would be doing a lot of really great things and be doing a lot of great work and absolutely nobody knew that those things were going on.
Jen Otremba: Yeah. In this world, it’s all the more important that people understand and know who you are and what you’re doing. We work in Crisis Management and workplace violence prevention. We need people to know who to call when things happen.
Bryan Strawser: Even beyond that, there’s a lot of really great work being done by Security, and Business Continuity, and Intelligence, and Crisis Management, and EOC-
Jen Otremba: Yes.
Bryan Strawser: … SOC, the GSOCs, and stuff around the world. We’ve seen it in our clients, and we see it in places we go and benchmark. Honestly, most of the business leaders in those organizations usually don’t even know that these things are happening.
Jen Otremba: Yeah.
Bryan Strawser: So what we really want to start off by talking about is, how do you kind of build this communication and awareness strategy, and why is that important, and how does that help you get visibility for the things that you’re working on?
Our experience has been that the more you communicate and kind of pull back the curtain a little bit, for teams that usually don’t like to do that, it gives that insight into the really cool work that teams are doing.
Jen Otremba: That’s right.
Bryan Strawser: Really helps them gain additional resources, and influence, and credibility within the organization over the long haul.
Jen Otremba: Yeah. I guess, why is communication so difficult? Why is it so difficult to outline some of these initiatives?
Bryan Strawser: Well, I think one of the challenges is, you think about most of the folks that we’ve worked with throughout our careers that they may be very good at relationships and that one on one kind of building things. But, thinking like a communicator is just not something that most people do.
Jen Otremba: Yeah.
Bryan Strawser: It requires you to really … I think, if you’ve not learned this throughout your career, I think most of us expect it, that other people are going to think about and consume information in the same way that we do. They’re gonna learn in the same way that we do. We know-
Jen Otremba: Is that not the case?
Bryan Strawser: It’s not the case. We know that folks think about things in a whole different course of ways.
Jen Otremba: That’s true, they do.
Bryan Strawser: For some folks, comprehension is not necessarily a strong point. I think when we talk about communicating, that I think academically that’s just how I’m wired. But when I write, I have to realize that I’m writing for about an eighth grade comprehension level because that’s the average in the United States.
Jen Otremba: Well and I think of some of the some of the teams that we’ve been on or teams that we’ve worked with in this sort of area. Many of them are very tactical in what they’re doing. So they’re getting the job done at the time of need.
So in for instance, Crisis Management. We all are good at getting what needs to be done right now.
Bryan Strawser: We’re good at collaborating.
Jen Otremba: We’re good at collaborating to get that done. But, especially in the after effect, we just move on to the next thing. I think that’s, a lot of times, the case. We just continue to move on to the next thing as our worlds are busier and busier.
Bryan Strawser: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jen Otremba: So we’re not always good at going back and making sure that everyone understands exactly what we’re doing, and how we’re doing it, and things like that, so.
Bryan Strawser: Right.
Jen Otremba: I definitely think that is … can be a struggle. Then another thing is, understanding what audiences to communicate to and how.
Bryan Strawser: This is a tough one because I think most of us think about the individuals that we interact with on a regular basis. We say, well that’s the audience. But, let’s put this in a context of a real example.
You’re at a company and you’re the head of Crisis Management. You’re rolling out a new International Travel Safety program.
Jen Otremba: For instance.
Bryan Strawser: Right. So you’re working with iJET or ISOS or a Control Risk, or one of the other providers that are out there. You’re rolling this program out. Who are your audiences in this case?
You’ve already gotten the business case approved. You’ve already gotten the money, so we’re past that point. You’re gonna start to roll this out. Who are the audiences that you’re aiming for?
Jen Otremba: Who’s gonna be using it?
Bryan Strawser: So we start with the users.
Jen Otremba: Yeah.
Bryan Strawser: Those are people that are gonna travel. Probably people that travel, US and Internationally. From there and of course, if you’ve got people based elsewhere coming to the US, it’s foreign travel to them. So probably all of your travelers, so now you’re done, right?
Jen Otremba: Well I think, too, that could be everyone because I think we have organizations that roll these programs out as a benefit to their whole company. So understanding what is in there, what benefit are they actually getting?
So that user is much bigger than just, I think, the leaders that travel. It could be the general population of employees, as well, that this could be a benefit to. We want them to use it because it’s good stuff, right?
Bryan Strawser: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jen Otremba: So that’s one, so you’ve got the users, which are kind of the whole population, it could be.
Bryan Strawser: This is going to be, at a minimum, the managers of the users and that’s going to be different communication. The communication to individual contributors, and the communication to the leaders of people, and the leaders of leaders of people are different.
Jen Otremba: Yes.
Bryan Strawser: There are different expectations here. For example, it might be a requirement that rolls out with this program that they have to do something different than they did before.
It’s one thing to dictate that as a policy, or as a procedure, or whatever your company calls it. But, it’s another thing to send that expectation as an expectation to the leaders of people and to their leadership structure.
Jen Otremba: Yeah. That’s for maybe rolling out a program. But additionally, if there is processes and procedures that you’re introducing that may be different, there may be some additional requirements for a leader to make sure that their people are doing.
So I think of like rolling out a new training. So let’s say an active shooter training. That training would be … everyone would get that training. Everyone needs to understand the importance of doing that training. But then leaders may have a requirement to make sure their people are taking the training-
Bryan Strawser: Have done the training, right.
Jen Otremba: … and that they’re talking about it, right?
Bryan Strawser: Right. There might be follow up questions.
Jen Otremba: There may be-
Bryan Strawser: Speaking points for an event, or a huddle, or a meeting, a staff meeting.
Jen Otremba: Yeah. There may be a different type of communication that goes out to your HR partners, for instance, as to the individuals that are pushing this information down.
Bryan Strawser: Mm-hmm (affirmative). There might be different communication to your Senior Executives. For example, they probably were the ones that approved your new International Travel Security [inaudible 00:08:37].
So it could be the executive follow up that next week … Of course, this needs to go out in advance of the launch. But next week, we’re launching our new Travel [inaudible 00:08:49] Security program, as you might recall from our briefing, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Again, based on your company’s culture, short, sweet, to the point. Or as my old boss said, “Be good, be brief, be gone.”
Jen Otremba: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. There may be some kind of communication to the public that may need to go out outside of the organization, which is gonna have a whole other level of detail. So depending on what it is that you’re sharing, it may be important to also review that information with the public or even the shareholders.
Bryan Strawser: So I think that covers a lot of the audience information. We always … One way to think about this is to think about who’s using it, who leads those people, who are the other stakeholders that have a stake in the game.
Jen brings up a really important point, that looking at what you might need to communicate to the public, or your partners, or key influencers, outside stakeholders is very important particularly on things that will be public facing. To give them a heads up so they can continue to influence others on your behalf.
So what does an awareness program start to look like, Jen?
Jen Otremba: As far as an awareness program, depending on what it is that you’re trying to spread awareness for. So, for instance, in my previous life I did a lot of work around workplace violence prevention.
We generally would launch an awareness program every year. For us, I think we did a kind of overview of our team and what we did, so we did a lot of things around that. It was more general awareness. Then, years after that, we would pick a topic. It would still be general awareness, but we would do additional information on certain areas that we wanted to highlight.
That’s where it would start. I would start with what it is that you want to communicate on a broad scale. Then, I would create a calendar around how you want to launch that information … and in a timeline.
Bryan Strawser: A lot of your editorial calendar will come back to what are the vehicles you have available to use. In terms of, communication tools that will help you get to where you want to be. Common things that we’ve used in the past are like a corporate intranet.
Sometimes, the communications team or another internal team, manages the main internet site. Maybe you only get certain article slots there. Maybe at the same time, you might have your own site within that where you can post more frequent updates.
We would encourage you to think about a cadence that makes sense for the way your company communicates and works. We have clients that post two or three things a week. We have clients that post something every week, a weekly article. Or they post on a less frequent schedule. It just really depends on what your company’s culture is like and what tools are available to you.
Digital content is a big one. Lots of companies are now using digital display boards. Like in the cafeteria, in the hallway, in the atrium, at the entrance. So find out, if you have such a thing, find out who owns it. Find out how you can get your messaging in there.
Posters are kind of old school, but it’s still done a lot. Posters, and column wraps, and table talkers … the little things you would put on a table like in the Café, or restaurant, or in a casual seating area.
Jen Otremba: Postcards, things that can be dropped off at individuals desks.
Bryan Strawser: Yep, desk. All kinds of desk drops. Wallet cards-
Jen Otremba: Yes.
Bryan Strawser: Particularly, if you’re rolling out some kind of communication, strategy, a call center, a new GSOC. We put stickers on phones for emergency calls. We’ve put white board clings on white boards about Infosec, about similar topics, security topics. What are some other things that we’ve done?
Jen Otremba: I’d say blog posts are huge.
Bryan Strawser: Right. Your internal articles or blog posts, depending on how your company talks about those.
Jen Otremba: Yep because that allows you to get a little bit more information in insight, and background, and what it is you’re talking about. Other than just a poster or a desk drop.
Bryan Strawser: Right. We’ve had … It’s also important to think about, particularly if you’re doing a launch, like what might be the collateral that goes along with your awareness strategy.
Hot things right now are webcam covers that stick on your laptop and slide over to cover the camera. Then, you can slide it back to uncover the camera. Jen is playing with hers right now, as we are recording this, on her laptop. But that’s a hot one. Cell phone cases and cell phone stands.
Jen Otremba: I mean, you see a lot of this stuff when you go to different trade shows. Pens and things like that, as well.
Bryan Strawser: Right.
Jen Otremba: But any kind of little gadgets like that, that you are able to provide to your employees. I know people really like those, so those are great because you can brand them with whatever it is that you are wanting to …
So, if you’re trying to get awareness out on your new team, for instance. That’s a great way to kind of brand it and to kind of get it in front of people. People love that stuff.
Bryan Strawser: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So as you build your editorial calendar, I think Jen’s really talked about it. Focus on some themes. Think about a cadence and the vehicles that make sense for you on what you’re doing.
I would assign dates to draft, dates to review, approval [inaudible 00:13:54] dates, dates you’re gonna post. Who’s gonna do it. Again, you might find some internal help with your communications team, maybe who will at least consult with you on some ideas.
Our view is that, as much as possible, your team should write the articles. It’s more authentic, it’s in your own team’s voice, you know the subject matter better than anyone. But again, this will just depend on how your organization approaches communication and what that process looks like.
Jen Otremba: It allows people to get to know your team, too. Whoever is actually doing the talking, it really helps, I think, to get the word out as to who you are and what you do, if your teams voice is the one doing it.
Bryan Strawser: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I can’t emphasize enough that there has to be some thought put in to making this work. You can’t just build an editorial calendar of a bunch of random topics without some thought to the themes that make it stick together and what you’re trying to accomplish through all of this.
We would encourage you to think about, as you start creating content, how do you tie it to that bigger theme? How do you tie it to the identity of your organization or your program. There are probably internal branding guidelines you’re going to have to follow because you want it to look like your company’s other material, right?
Jen Otremba: Right.
Bryan Strawser: Even if you go to an outside designer, you want to stick to what your company has given you in terms of guidelines.
Jen Otremba: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. You might want to go back to, for instance, your company policies and things like that. So as you’re highlighting maybe different things that your team is doing, you can always highlight back to your company policy. Or certain training that’s already out there that people can also review. So kind of bringing them back to the company items that already exist.
Bryan Strawser: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So to recap our thoughts on communication and awareness programs, think about your audiences, consider your themes, build an editorial calendar, understand the different vehicles that are available to you.
If you have an internal PR, Social Media communications team, work with them to understand branding guidance and expectations and what their involvement needs to be in the process.
If we can help you, we’ve built a number of communication awareness programs for companies, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or give us a call at 612-235-6435.