I used to hang out with a legendary Silicon Valley CEO who will remain nameless here. We were having pizza in a cramped airport restaurant once and he was musing on an upcoming speech he was developing. As a budding communication guru I asked him what he wanted his audience to do after the speech. He replied: “I want them to buy [the company’s flagship product] of course. But, I need a high concept to sell that with.”
What I learned from the encounter was that strategic communication involved: 1) clear audience goals linked to business objectives; and 2) controlling context to link those objectives to larger ideas and human motivations. One was not sufficient without the other. To maintain his brand as a visionary leader, this linkage between ideas and business objectives had to be more than window dressing for a sales pitch. He wanted to place a cogent argument before his audience that caused them to think about the world and assess why certain products and companies were necessary parts of that world.
The second inspiration puts the first in an even larger context. Management guru Peter Drucker argued that companies and other organizations should not see themselves as singular entities. Rather, they are parts of larger systems such as economies and societies.
“To discharge its job, to produce economic goods and services, the business enterprise has to have impact on people, on communities, and on society.”
Peter Drucker, The Essential Drucker (2001)
Profit, in Drucker’s view, was not the goal of the enterprise, but the reward for doing other things right in the context of economies and societies. This Drucker quote begs a fundamental question of any communication: So what?
You have a company. You have a product. So what? What is the impact on people, on communities, on society at large that earns you a place in the global economy? Answering these questions is essentially an exercise in building the linkages to the higher concepts my CEO friend talked about. If you cannot build them, you probably have other problems you need to solve before uttering a single word. Assuming you are doing something worthwhile, building those linkages is not magic. But, it takes some work, some knowledge about concepts relevant to the historical moment and a little imagination.
That is what Critical Communications does.