Stephanie Newby | Crain's Silicon Valley

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Stephanie Newby

Background:  

Founded in 2007, Crimson Hexagon is a global leader in consumer insights from social-media data. Crimson Hexagon’s platform helps hundreds of brands and agencies answer critical business questions through the insights derived from social data. Clients include leading global organizations such as General Mills, Starbucks, Paramount Pictures and Twitter. The firm is headquartered in Boston and has offices in Manhattan, Chicago, San Francisco and London. Stephanie Newby has served as the firm’s chief executive officer for five years and previously worked in financial services with J.P. Morgan. She is the founder of Golden Seeds, an early-stages investment firm focused on women-led businesses. 

The Mistake:

The mistake was misunderstanding how important it is to put a communications strategy in place and to be deliberate about using the word “strategy.”

I have done a bunch of different things through businesses I’ve run, and I’ve always had a bit of a high-level plan. I followed similar steps: research, plan, execute and review. But I didn’t really have a separate step about communicating. Of course, I knew you had to communicate, and it usually fell somewhere in the planning and the execution stages, but I didn’t have that separate step.

In the late 1990s, when I was working for a large global financial-services firm, I was assigned to put in place a communications strategy for the firm. I did my research and my planning, and I was under pressure to unveil this new strategy at a global meeting with all of the managing directors from around the world.

I was confident I had the right strategy, but I realized that just unveiling a strategy isn’t the best way to communicate something. I remember feeling very unconfident at the moment of presenting it to that large audience, which was unusual because I’m usually pretty confident. That was a bit of an internal signal that this wasn’t the best route for communicating something so important.

I think [another mistake] came out of this. The second mistake was not pushing back hard enough. I should have asked for more time to prepare so that the communications strategy wouldn’t come as a surprise to the audience or be possibly misunderstood by the company’s 250 [worldwide] managing directors.

Don't underestimate the importance of a really good communications strategy. 

The Lesson:

Don't underestimate the importance of a really good communications strategy. Don’t just communicate when you’re doing something new or different, but put in place the communications strategy as part of your planning for a whole project and the execution of that project.

Three years ago, I came across a great mantra: Create clarity, communicate clarity, and overcommunicate clarity. That’s what I’ve been using as a guiding principle for the past few years. But it still doesn’t get to creating a communications strategy, which is a plan within the plan.

A communications strategy recognizes that you need to [tell people about] things, whether it’s the unveiling of a new vision, or a new project, or a new business model. You’ve got to think through all the different ways you’re going to communicate something and the different media necessary for the audience to hear it.

Have a communications strategy as part of the whole plan so you can pre-communicate a lot of the messages to certain people.  Have the unveiling be the last step in the communications process.

If you can do that, then you’ve activated that idea of overcommunicating. People are now hearing something not for the first time; they’ve already heard about it and had time to think. Now they’re hearing it for the second or third time and can recognize that this thing is official.

Knowing the audience is crucial. It’s not just knowing whom you’re speaking to but also where they’re coming from. Spending time on that before just rolling out the communications strategy is really important, and I think it makes the execution steps go smoother. 

Crimson Hexagon is on Twitter: @CrimsonHexagon.

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Newby