Linda Descano, CFA®, Executive Vice President of Red Havas, explains that understanding the business of business is one of the most important skills communicators can have. She explains how communicators can conduct their own research about their companies by asking themselves key questions and utilizing valuable resources. Linda also predicts future trends for 2023 and beyond.
DOUG: Linda, clearly your work history is pretty remarkable and I think it makes sense for you to give people sort of a little window into some of the experiences you’ve had.
LINDA: Absolutely. I’m happy to, Doug. I’ve spent 25 years in financial services working for a global bank in a variety of capacities, from running a prototype sustainability unit to ESG investing, to focusing on how to engage women, to running a global social and content firm. For the past eight years, though, I’ve been on the agency side, so I’ve really had the benefit of looking at communications, both from an in-house and agency view, B to be a B2C or today we’re talking like P2P person to person, and that has really informed think how I approach communications, but also how I approach communicating with my clients and how to bring plans forward and enable them to sell those plans in.
DOUG: Yeah. What are some of the key takeaways that you’ve had from your experience about bringing plans forward to discuss?
LINDA: One of the most important skills that PR professional needs today, and I think this is true across all of communications and marketing, is really to understand the business of business and be able to translate or contextualize, you know, communications jargon and language into the language of business, the language that, you know, the C-suite speaks.
DOUG: And when you talk about business to business, how much of that is knowing about the specific industry that you’re working with of your client, but also really knowing sort of general business understanding of how business is conducted and what sort of traditionally valued.
LINDA: Think it’s a combination of both because you really can’t understand a client’s industry if you don’t have basic business acumen. And that means really being able to understand, you know, how to read basic financial statements, how to listen to and analyze an earnings report, how to read an annual report, or, you know, if it’s a publicly traded company, a Form 10-K, you know, what economics means, what does inflation have to do or stock price and market valuation. So, think that that is fundamental. And then it’s also, you know, understanding the industries in which you, you know, your clients are, you know, working. How do they make money? Who are their competitors, you know, who owns them? Even if you’re working for a nonprofit, what is the profile of their donors? What’s the risk profile in the company? Are they very conservative? Are they very entrepreneurial and like to be, you know, leaders versus fast followers? How do they make decisions? You know, what is their customer landscape? What are the political and regulatory dynamics they operate in? What is their ESG profile? What kinds of people do they hire? What are their talent, needs and gaps? All of these factors really shape, you know, how a brand shows up, how you can do reputation storytelling, how you can bring communications forward, you know, because you can’t create plans in a vacuum. You can’t be tone deaf. And so really understanding all of the business parameters helps you create, you know, opportunities that are going to move the business forward and really help, you know, show the value that communications can bring both from a top line and a bottom line perspective.
DOUG: Yeah, what I found really interesting there is he started that answer and it was sort of related to only large companies, publicly traded companies. But as you moved on with the answer, it seems like many of those items are relevant. Whether you’re a startup getting your first or second round of funding, or if you are one of the behemoths that have been around for years.
LINDA: Absolutely. I mean, you know, if it’s if you’re working with a startup, they may have an exit strategy. That exit strategy may be to go public, it may be to get acquired. So you have to understand, right, where your client is, you know, who is investing, who owns them, and then what are their goals, because that is a very different, perhaps communications agenda than it would be if, you know, if it’s like a business as usual approach. And the same thing on the nonprofit side, you know, depending on the profile of the donor, is it organizations that they’re looking for funding from? Is it individuals? Are those individuals based in the US? Are they based in multiple countries? So, all of these questions really can help you understand, you know, what the opportunity set, what are potential, you know, headwinds, what are potential tailwinds? And that just makes for a richer conversation. But it also ensures that everything you do is laddering up to that overall, you know, business agenda. It also helps you think about the what if, what if something doesn’t go well or land as you expect it. How do you have a plan B, a plan C and manage issues and crises, you know, as they evolve?
DOUG: Yeah. So what’s your advice for, say, a PR person? Maybe they’re just been trained in PR and graduated with a degree or maybe they’ve got up to ten years’ experience. Obviously, everyone doesn’t have the luxury of being able to afford or take time to get an MBA, which seems like it would obviously be helpful in this. What can individuals do to make them more aware and more effective with this type of thought process?
LINDA: There are so many options and I also don’t have an MBA, so I’m sort of self-taught. I went to the school of Hard knocks. You know, the the Securities and Exchange Commission has, you know, how to read resources that can take you through how to read an annual report on Form 10-K, the Business Insights blog from Harvard University online, Investopedia also have lots of free information to take you through how to read Financial Statements. Reagan Communications offers a financial bootcamp that you can explore, but then many trade associations, trade outlets will produce landscape reports on their industries. And that’s a great way for getting a foundational knowledge of what is happening in the industries that you’re working on. And then it’s, you know, really just investing the time to read the earnings report, listen to the earnings call, watch interviews with the CEO of the publicly traded company and how they talk about the earnings. And over time, you’ll just get familiar with the lexicon, you know, and ask the executives that you work with, make, you know, a business update and business review part of every quarterly meeting with your client. You know, seek advice if you’re at an agency with more senior account directors and leaders who are for guidance and insight. But there’s a tremendous number of resources that you can tap. And it’s about, you know, staying in tune, continuing to read the news, follow with trade press as well, you know, monitor what companies are posting on their website, what they’re saying on LinkedIn. All of these resources can help you build that knowledge.
DOUG: Yeah, and we’re actually doing some experimenting with Chat GPT and that seems to be a potentially valuable tool to gain at least top level or sort of surface level, I should say, insights that can guide you further. Finally, as we look towards wrapping up, what are some of the trends that you see taking place in 2023 and beyond, both in communication and how businesses, how organizations will be relying on communications.
LINDA: From a business standpoint, I mean, we continue to see a very purpose driven marketplace with employees, prospective, job candidates, communities, investors, customers, all, you know, having very high expectations of the business community in terms of addressing the societal issues that we’re facing. They’re looking not just for performative pledges, but substantive action. And, you know, increasingly a lot of scrutiny over whether the pledges that are being made actually can be delivered on. So for many in business today, it’s about having an always on listening tool to keep your pulse on how conversations, whether they’re around climate or DE&I or inequity in the health system are evolving and knowing where your employees are, where your customers are, where your communities are, and being able to maintain credibility and ensure that your actions are aligned with your words, with your purpose, and expect that to be a factor in all aspects of your business. Of course, we, you know, have a very challenging economic environment. So, it’s also important for communicators to think about the changing reality. What does that mean for business investment and how to deliver as much impact as possible. You know, with the resources and the programs that we’re having. And that’s why thinking about how with any communications initiative, can younot only reach customers, but, you know, create an impact for communities, for employees and really create that surround sound. So with every dollar of investment you’re amplifying and helping that company breakthrough in a meaningful way with all of the stakeholders that they are looking to connect with and have to manage the expectations of.
DOUG: And of course, with the economic uncertainty that’s out there that you referred to. PR and communications can become even more valuable if it becomes a time of transition or change. And Linda, thank you so much for your awesome insights. It’s really great to talk to you as it always is.
LINDA: Well, thank you for having me, Doug.