As President of RomneyCom, Lynthia Romney positions major corporations and national nonprofits for leadership visibility through powerful messaging. We spoke with her about best practices related to messaging…and how it impacts reputation management.
Messaging is a word we hear frequently. How do you define messaging and how does it differ from branding?
Powerful key messaging is C-suite language. Whether you are a corporate executive, a business owner or a nonprofit director, your key messages can position you as a strategic thinker with a vision for how you run your organization.
And if you are a rising executive, they can position you as CEO of your career.
This C-level messaging is conveyed most effectively when speaking to the needs of your clients, who can be internal stakeholders or external targets. How do you help them reach their customers or prospects? How do you solve their problems and position them competitively on the most important business issues they face?
Key messages are the script to express your “brand.” They articulate what you stand for among the people you most want to reach and engage: clients, influencers, donors, or employees – who are your daily brand ambassadors.
A strong brand embodies the purpose and characteristics of an organization, and is reinforced by the positive customer experiences around it. If brand marketing – in advertising, social media, in-store events, or media – is accurate and consistent, the brand can become instantly understood and recognized.
The component of character is crucial: communications should uphold the brand by including the long-term vision and the principles of doing business that guide how your company serves your customers or contributes to your community.
We hear a lot about messaging in politics. How does this relate to the phrase “stay on message”?
“Staying on message” in the political realm connotes sticking with the party line. And in today’s contests, those lines are in flux. Businesses, on the other hand, must convey a consistent brand promise to shareholders, customers, and employees. That must be deeply thought through, consistently communicated and honored in thought, word and deed.
What is an example of a strong messaging campaign?
There are numerous CEOs who represent rock-solid brands with powerful and visionary messaging. Bernard Tyson, Chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, is a high-profile speaker on global issues shaping health and how his company models a viable delivery system for the future.
Ginni Rometty, Chairwoman, President and CEO of IBM, is an example of a leader pushing an iconic organization into realms where it will have continued relevance and impact. One example is health, which she has called IBM’s “moonshot” in conjunction with cognitive computing system IBM Watson Health. Despite the short-term pressures from Wall Street, she focuses on long term, “transformational” change. Some of her quotes speak to her vision and her principles – and reinforce the importance of owning your message:
- Never protect your past, never define yourself by a single product, and always continue to steward for the long-term. Keep moving towards the future.
- Don’t let others define you. You define yourself.
- Growth and comfort do not coexist.
- Given who the IBM target company is, I feel our purpose is to be essential to our clients.
- Clients say, ‘What’s your strategy,’ and I say, ‘Ask me what I believe first.’ That’s a far more enduring answer.
Can you describe your process for working with clients to develop a strong message?
The work of creating lasting key messages requires us to delve deeply into the strategy and business plans for an organization or an executive.
If we are working with a company, for example, we first conduct our own due-diligence. Then we convene a candid conversation with key executives, staff and stakeholders. We ask about their perceptions of the company’s strengths, competitive advantages, opportunities and obstacles in terms of their clients and prospects. At the same time, we listen for consistency in the answers and cohesiveness of the culture.
Here are some examples:
- Who are the customers you most want to reach?
- What will they need in the marketplace of the future?
- How do your products, services or areas of expertise position you to deliver on that?
- What are the challenges you face in delivering them?
We throw up their answers on a flip chart. They we track the key themes and begin to weave them into a strategic message framework that they can use in speeches, media interviews, blogs and Op-Eds.
The advantage of coming in as a generalist is that we can ask the questions that elicit not only strategic direction but also the “golden threads” of details that help explain and deepen the story.
During this process, we feed back our clients’ own knowledge and creativity into a message package that reflects their best thinking.
What are the most common missteps CEOs and other leaders make when they fail to shape an effective message?
Common message missteps are:
Making the message self-centered. While stating what a company’s product and services are has a place in a capability statement or a specific sales discussion, the high level messages we are talking about need to relate to the needs and interests of the generalist – the CEO, the consumer, media or employee. Don’t just talk about your widgets. Place your offerings in the context of the value you deliver.
Speaking in insider terms or acronyms. Similarly, experts can fall into the trap of talking to themselves in a language only they understand. Learn to explain what you do without the crutch of an acronym and it will likely become a more strategic and resonant message.
Shrinking from the spotlight. An imperative of leadership is to be a spokesperson for the organization. Responsible leaders represent their brands across communications channels in speaking opportunities, media, blogs, Op-Eds, boards and associations.
Powerful messaging can elevate a company in the public eye. Embracing this process can be a thrilling journey.
Lynthia Romney’s experience spans the worlds of journalism, public relations and financial services. Quoted in The Wall Street Journal for her advice on presentations, she has prepared executives to present themselves at all stages of the career continuum. Capturing her clients’ brand strength, she builds message platforms that resonate through multiple channels before their customers, prospects, employees and other audiences.
She served on the WBENC Board of Directors, and received the coveted “Applause” Award at its National Conference and Business Fair in June 2011. She has also served for many years on the Board of the Financial Women’s Association, and worked with the President’s Circle of sponsoring organizations.
This is the sixth in a series of interviews with experts whose work relates to online reputation management.