AB Thinks  →  13th December 2018

How internal communicators can become a bit more Don Draper

Katie Macaulay has five simple ideas to help internal communicators step beyond what is comfortable, obvious or uninspired.

Perhaps you were an avid fan of Mad Men. Maybe you never understood the hype. Either way, I recommend you take three minutes to watch Don Draper pitching to Kodak. It’s a master class in communications. The Kodak guys think they have developed an improved product. Draper tells them they have built a time machine.

I was reminded of this classic Mad Men sequence when preparing my opening speech for AB Thinks Live last week.

Our theme was bravery and boldness. As our profession becomes more strategic and influential, now is the time to challenge ourselves and our organisations with some fresh thinking. Not just because it makes our work more rewarding personally, but because a braver creative decision usually results in a more credible and compelling story.

All the best work happens on thin ice.

Throughout history, it has been the risk takers, rule breakers and non-conformists who have moved us forward.

‘Hang on!’ I hear you say. Before I can become the Don Draper of IC, I have a few practical problems to overcome – a skimpy budget, overstretched team, demanding business environment and risk-averse stakeholders.

Plus, no doubt you operate in a hierarchical, command-control structure, in which people are largely either issuing or receiving instructions.

Where’s the room for bravery?

During our event, I shared five ideas to push internal communicators gently beyond the comfortable and obvious.

  1. Ask yourself: What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?

For a moment imagine that failure is not possible – you are guaranteed to succeed.

Now, what would you do? This is a great way to remove constraints and imagine big.

  1. Identify the one thing

In advertising they call it the single-minded proposition. It’s the result of all the data gathering, research, thinking and chin stroking. It’s the one simple truth that’s so compelling it forms the backbone of the entire global campaign.

In IC it can be hard to define the one thing. Our organisations are complex. Our change programmes multi-faceted. Every new initiative is an intricate web of messages.

Understand the problem, do the analysis, conduct the research – then strip everything back to the one thing that really matters. Find that single human truth that gives your audience a better chance of understanding and connecting with you.

  1. Break a rule

Pick a rule or an accepted methodology and do the opposite. For example, the generally accepted rule in IC is that communication is directed, created and approved at the top of the pyramid and communicated down the hierarchy.

For your next project, what if you did the opposite? Reverse the roles and make leaders the audience. Ask the frontline to create and sign-off the message and then communicate it upwards. Choose a rule – then break it.

  1. You become who you spend time with

We all need to be inspired to be inspiring. We also need resilience, especially in today’s demanding work environment. Think about the people surrounding you. Do they stretch you? Do they motivate you to try something new? Seek out the right company.

  1. Pilot something

You don’t have to start big. Start with a discrete pilot, limited in scope. That way the cost, impact and risks are contained. Collect the data – prove your idea works – and, if you can, turn your testers into evangelists.

Every organisation has a unique perspective on boldness and creativity. What is brave for one is bland for another. As internal communicators, we have to work with what we have, all the while keeping our eyes on the far horizon.