23 November 2007: Before any company starts publicising itself and its offerings, it is crucial that it knows exactly what it is going to communicate. This may seem like "re-stating the obvious" but a quick look around many industries, including the life sciences, will show that many companies have websites, press releases or other public facing materials where the messages are confused or the positioning of the company is unclear. This is often especially true for companies communicating in a language other than their native language.
Northbank's Munich office has worked with a number of its German clients to develop congruent messages that underpin communications programmes. For example, Ergomed, a specialised CRO, was launching a new co-development strategy and needed to reflect this additional direction through the positioning and messaging of the Company. In contrast, ImVisioN Therapeutics needed to professionalise and focus its messaging as it is transitioning from an early stage company and is preparing for future additional business transactions. Last but not least, Ganymed is a company that has been around for a number of years and was now ready to focus and finalise its messaging in preparation for the development of corporate materials and a more proactive communications programme.
The process that Northbank adopted for each of its clients was broadly similar and involved a half day meeting with key stakeholders including senior management. Our experience has taught us that it is crucial to include all the people with a major involvement in the company at this first stage, as they will need to "buy into" the new messaging. The first exercise involved each participant writing and reading out one sentence that described their company.
The next stage was to look at competitor messages. Prior to the meeting, Northbank researched the messaging of each of the company's competitors. Analysis of the frequency of certain word usage and the nuances of different levels of emphasis in competitor messages was presented to the client. These were then compared with the sentences that had been written by the key stakeholders. The purpose behind these two initial stages was to get everyone thinking about how best to describe their company and also how best to differentiate it from competitors.
SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats)
The next stage involved conducting a SWOT analysis. Using a flipchart to record everything, Northbank facilitated a brainstorming with the key stakehoders to look at all the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats relating to the company's business. This stage works best when absolutely everything possible is revealed and recorded. The key material for the formation of the core messages come from the 'strengths' section tempered by a realisation of what weaknesses or threats could affect those strengths. Finally, the opportunity allows for the formation of a company vision.
Once the SWOT analysis was complete, the four panels from the flipchart were then placed in a position that was visible to all participants. By this time the stakeholders are usually very focused on the business of the company and in a good position to start the serious process of formulating messages. Using the SWOT analysis as background, the group together then brainstormed the core message of the company plus four or five supporting messages. The aim is that these messages should form the descriptive base of the whole company that is presented to the outside world. Formulating these messages is the most challenging and time consuming part of the entire session.
After the messaging session, the "raw message" document which is a straightforward record of all that was discussed in the meeting was produced. This was then used as the basis to hone down to a messaging document that underpinned all the communications that would represent the public face of the company. The final messaging document produced depended on the company's needs. Typically it contained a boilerplate (the core messages rendered in a palatable way for use in company profiles or at the end of press releases), a strapline or slogan, a mission statement and a vision statement. It is only after the drafting of this document that messages for specific audiences i.e. investor, scientific, business development and employee messages were formulated. These usually involved a core paragraph with additional supporting statements. A questions and answers document can then be prepared.
Sue Charles, Managing Partner
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