Lean Corporate Communications – Adding Value Through the Creative Value Chain

Adding value while minimizing waste. This is the prevailing maxim on lean management. Starting in the 1990s, this manufacturing method based on Toyota´s model has become popular in industry circles all over the world. The pivotal element in this successful concept is a systematic customer focus with enhanced efficiency along the entire value chain. Its goal is to maximize the company´s responsiveness to changing customer demands.

In the meantime, corporate communications is facing the same challenge. With traditional and social media experiencing an information overload it is getting more difficult for corporate communications to gain enough attention for their brand. In addition, companies and brands also have to deal with an increasingly complex nexus of stakeholders. Corporate communication is perceived as successful if it responds quickly, is authentic and creates a tangible incremental value for relevant target audiences. With this backdrop communication departments are expected to contribute to making their company more agile and prepared for the challenges of the 21st century.

Part of this endeavor is benchtesting internal processes for content creation and optimizing them to achieve a rigorous focus on the identified target groups. This is important because, like other lines of business, corporate communications is suffering from organizational inefficiencies, limiting its ability to produce exciting and informative stories. This is why the time has come for communications managers to capitalize in their own way on the principles of lean management.

#1 Identifying Value

Communication is not an end in itself. Whoever wants to create value through communication, should be aware of what this value constitutes for the various target groups. Communication managers need to intransigently make readers, radio and TV audiences as well as followers on social media the focal point of their activity. They need to see things through the lens of target groups like journalists, shareholders, the interested public and retail consumers when they assess publications and stories for their audience.

#2 Mapping the Creative Value Chain

In its essence, the creation of exciting, informative and valuable stories featuring the brand resembles a value chain. In this case it stretches all the way from collecting ideas to publishing the edited content. All activities along this value chain need to be assessed with respect to what they contribute to the value creation. It is important to distinguish between primary and secondary activities: While primary activities – like converting an idea into an informative story – create direct value for the target groups, secondary activities – for example editorial coordination routines – only add to the creation of value by steadily facilitating primary activities. All activities that neither directly nor implicitly add value – for example duplicative research thanks to silo mentality – need to be eliminated from the communication value chain.

#3 Creating Flow

The whole value adding process in content creation needs to be synchronized in a way that allows perfect integration. The content product (magazine story, video, post) needs to move without friction through all phases of its formation. Internal coordination and editorial meetings should be formatted and conducted to facilitate a harmonious process. Content that moves through various stages while it is created needs strict scheduling and fine-tuning of tasks to ensure that a thoroughly integrated and highly appreciated communication product arrives at the end of the creative value chain.

#4 Establishing Pull

Producing too much content certainly doesn´t help. Informational requirements and needs of the brand´s respective target groups should give the necessary guidance and help to set priorities for content development. Appropriate organizational provisions need to warrant an early anticipation and editorial implementation of emerging topics so that the company can be positioned as a thought leader. Depending on the budget a topic editor or deskman may be hired or trained in order to reliably identify stories that relate to the brand and click with the target groups.

#5 Seeking Perfection

Organizing a perfectly creative value chain, however, is an illusion. This also holds true for corporate communications. But trying to reach this target will be sufficient to start a continuous process of improvement. Part of this process are repeated efforts to improve efficiency along the value chain and measures to get constant feedback into the organization for an unrelenting and therefore value adding focus on the target groups. It is equally important in this context to arrange complementary audits for corporate communications and its performance. If you want to create value through communications you need to make it measurable. And you need to be willing to be benchmarked yourself in the course of your improvement efforts.

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