Billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk is best known for his electric cars, high-speed loops, reusable rockets, and totally not dangerous flame throwers. What’s less well known is his corporate communication prowess.
From internal emails on leadership and communication to tweets about upcoming product features, Musk provides a useful glimpse into the current state of modern corporate messaging. In the age of total access and instant information, CEOs and business leaders across industries have been forced to add “strategic communication” to their shortlist of core skills. Of course, the minefield of PR can make the lines between internal and external communication difficult to discern along with the risk of leaks and misunderstandings.
What leaders like Musk emulate (though not without shortcomings) is a keen understanding of the three basics concepts for successful corporate communication. I call it the AMP Method: Audience, Medium, and Purpose.
The top priority for any message – whether it be a speech, tweet, or email – is to know your audience. Even before crafting the copy, a solid understanding of who is at the other end of that message sets the stage for all the rest. Sometimes this is self-explanatory (an email to employees or coworkers) sometimes this takes careful research (B2B native content for a mid-size energy company). In today’s information age, it is imperative to remember that just because you identify an intended audience doesn’t necessarily mean they will be the only ones to receive that message. Lessons from politics to sports have shown that any kind of communication, regardless of how secret or private, can be exposed.
As a result, effectives communicators must also ask themselves, How will this message be received by those outside the target audience? Is there anything ambiguous or insinuating that could be misconstrued? Once a particular audience or audiences have been considered, the next two items can be addressed more effectively.
Define the audience first. Think about the ramifications of those outside your audience receiving the message. Proceed only after carefully considering all parties involved.
Until around 30 years ago, TV, print, and radio were the only mediums communication professionals had to think about. Obviously that is no longer the case. While corporate messages are distinct from traditional marketing and PR, communicating with employees and “friends of the firm” (suppliers, partners, potential employees, industry allies, etc.) cannot be treated as a singular effort, such as sending an email or a press release. Amanda Guisbond, Director of Communication for American Well, advises companies to meet people where they already are. Rather than just posting messages to the corporate intranet or sending a massive email blast, using analytics to determine where your audience spends time interacting with certain content can help triangulate the appropriate medium.
For instance, Guisbond cites GE’s tactic of using LinkedIn not just for job postings and media content, but also for internal emails to employees, going as far as to copy them verbatim. As GE’s Chief Communication Officer Deirdre Latour explains, “...our internal communications plans look across all the places our employees are active and aim to deliver the message in the right way for those channels -- whether they're internal or external."
Don’t just settle for email, even for basic internal messages. Meet your audience where they already are; don’t force them to a different platform. Remember though, if the audience isn’t fully defined first, the medium is of little consequence.
It might seem overly onerous to spend time considering the purpose of a communique, after all if there wasn’t some purpose behind it why do it in the first place. However, this step is anything but a formality.
After identifying the audience(s) and medium(s), taking time to re-examine the purpose of your message can help make crucial decisions about word choice, tone, length, structure, and more. Pinpointing a strong thesis separates your message from all the other noise. While you and your team may spend an inordinate amount of time carefully parsing every word and phrase, chances are your audience will hear or read it only once.
Revisiting purpose is also useful because it may have shifted along the way. As more attention is paid to audience and medium rather than just content, a slightly adjusted purpose may be necessary for a segmented audience or nuanced medium (e.g. a message posted to a private company intranet or a public social media platform).
Take time to double check the purpose before going live. Answer questions like, Has the landscape changed since we decided to start? Is the point crystal clear, or is it buried with a bunch of qualifiers? An unclear purpose is sure to obfuscate any alignment of audience and medium.
The AMP method is a simple yet useful template for any corporate communication strategy. From charismatic CEO twitter accounts like Musk to more traditional, multi-channel approaches like GE, a message tailored to it’s audience through an appropriate medium with a poignant purpose is one primed for success.
At its core, AMP attempts to force corporate communicators to remember that they are talking to humans with an inherent interest in the company’s success, whether they be employees or other stakeholders. By stripping down the process to these three basic elements, any message has the opportunity to make a successful impact on the people who make corporations function.