Consumer tech start-ups vs. Established consumer tech brands. What can their communications leaders learn from either side?
As part of our continuing series of seminars for senior communications professionals, Ellwood Atfield hosted a breakfast on Thursday 10th November specifically for leaders within the consumer tech industry to explore what Communications Directors from established consumer tech brands can learn from their peers in start-ups and of course, vice versa.
We wanted to present our guests with a forum to voice their shared experiences of issues such as: managing entrepreneurial CEO’s; designing structure in the communications team when the company you work for is growing faster than anyone expected, or could have prepared for; the different skills needed to reach the number one role within the consumer tech sector and finally; what are the biggest challenges that communications has to overcome in such an ubiquitous and comparatively young industry.
Our guest speakers were three comms leaders from consumer tech companies which are well-established, new or rapidly growing; all are heavy-weight, important firms within the sector and each face differing communications challenges. All were generous enough to lead our discussion and provide great insight as to what life is like as the Communications Lead within their respective firms.
Sophy Tobias, Communications Director for Europe, Middle East & Africa at Instagram (previously, Facebook, ITV and eBay: Gumtree)
Alex Belardinelli; Head of Communications, UK, Ireland and Netherlands at Uber (previously, a career in government and political communications having worked for the Labour Party, in the Department for Children, Schools and Families and as Head of Communications to Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor)
Sam Hodges, Head of Communications, Twitter (UK) (previously, comms and publicity roles for ITV, BBC and Channel 4)
In the discussion amongst 20 communications leaders within the consumer tech sector the following conversation topics arose.
Your PR Agency
One of the first priorities has to be selecting the right agency to work for you, and for your firm. Consumer tech is a sector where creativity and ambition is absolutely innate to the culture. The need for a good agency to provide that extra strand of creativity on proactive campaigns which surpasses that already within the business is of paramount importance.
Let the customer guide you
Factor in where your customers perceive their service as being the point of receipt to your tone of communications. Of course corporate communications from a central point is crucial. But if your customers perceive your company as being a local service, in the case of online marketplaces or the shared economy, then they respond to geographically specific and local communications before they will to centralised corporate communications.
Create the Narrative
As with any communications goal the world of consumer tech needs to create the narrative of social responsibility which accurately reflect the ambitions of the company itself. Third parties can tell your story of corporate responsibility just as well, if not better than you can. Think long term on reaching this goal. If you put in energy to building the third party relationships, the impact of your narrative coming from them will only be magnified.
Embrace the old, the new and the competitor
Working for a social media business can have a confusing effect on what you perceive as successful media placement. To see your brand being talked about on your media is, in effect, preaching to the converted. To see it in print, broadcast, and even on your competitors social media tools allows you to express your corporate identity to the audience engaged with media other than your own. Embrace your competitors and keep your fury at bay when you see your event on their feeds.
Your business is driven by sales which can have an impact on how communications is perceived internally. This is the age old question, how do you prove ROI on communications to a sales driven business? The answer is to be found in some part through your CEO and your relationship with them as a trusted advisor. You are a person with the expertise at pulling them out of self-directed reputational cul-de-sacs. Once you achieve that then the foundations have been laid to proving that your ROI is greater than the sales team could ever imagine. Whilst it is tempting to hope that a crisis can fall into your lap so that you can show your true mettle, be careful what you wish for as sometimes, it never rains, but it pours.
However old or new your firm, you will never stop facing the challenge of shifting perception from one thing to another. Ubiquity whilst at times a blessing can also be a challenge to overcome. There is a temptation to think that a set piece event which has huge media impact can change perceptions but this should not be done in isolation. Your press team / agency should be laying the foundations of building journalist relationships, sending scouting stories to drip feed your reputational shift in advance of your set piece event. Also, it is worthwhile creating campaign “Movements” which are synonymous with your brand. Campaigns such as Bring your Parents to Work Day, Movember etc have a life of their own that is separate from your corporate identity. The fact that your business has designed “the Movement” only means that your corporate identity is carried along in its wake.
It is striking that whilst all consumer tech firms share common ground, in terms of their sector, there are great differences in the communications challenges they face and means employed to overcome those challenges.
Cloud based firms face different challenges to service economy firms. Media firms face different challenges to shared economy and online market-platform firms. Where the common ground for all firms lies, is in the demands made of the communications team to be flexible, to be creative and to be bold.
Finally, no matter what your sector, no matter how old or young the company, the role of the communications team is to ensure that the perceptions of your corporate reputation continually evolve to keep your customers engaged, to keep them enlightened and to keep them logging in. It just so happens that, when you’re a comms leader in consumer tech the evolution happens perhaps that little bit quicker…
Other Communications Directors breakfasts
Ellwood Atfield run regular breakfast seminars for senior leadership practitioners in corporate communications, consumer PR, internal communications, healthcare PR and public affairs.