Dear CMO:

In this election year, with presidential (and not-so-presidential) hopefuls criss-crossing the world, a fundamental… what? There isn’t an election this year? Right. Sorry. In this run-up to an election year, etc., etc., a fundamental lesson emerges for marketers that could benefit from further inspection.

In the realm of public relations, there are more important things to think about than whether YouTube or TechCrunch should be first on your “to do” list. Tactics can wait. What the CMO needs to think about first, in my book, is the question of role management.

Role management concerns the question of who in your company says what to whom. This is managed with symphonic precision at companies with strong PR functions and with comic results in companies that don’t. There are plenty in the blogosphere who have spent their entire careers in this field and who are far more knowledgeable in the totality of PR than I could ever be, but having run PR functions, been a key stakeholder in PR messaging, and been a role player in a well-managed role management system, I feel I’m qualified to jump on my soapbox for this one moment.

As many of you well know, I would never use this august marketing forum to present political views – separation of church and state, peas don’t touch the carrots, and all that – but recent events show us that hitting the road and presenting oneself as having authority when one doesn’t necessarily speak for the whole team can cause problems. Not to mention a certain loss of credibility, both home and abroad.

* * *
Key Takeaways:

> The issue of “who”: each key internal constituent with a need to communicate something to someone has a specific role. Your CEO plays a role, as does your product marketers, your channel marketers, and even your engineers, at times. The messages they present are different. The media to which they communicate are different.

> The issue of “what”: creating compelling communication pillars – the stories that your key stakeholders will communicate – is worth investing significant time and effort in honing to the point that your messaging is tight, compelling, and on strategy. Perhaps your CEO will focus on growth, competitiveness, and leadership. Maybe your product marketers will speak on issues specifically related to products and launches. Your channel people have their own messages, meant to reach the ears of the channel partners. Keep these clean.

> The issue of “where”: the CEO is in front of the general business press, your product marketers talk to industry trades, and your channel people talk to their own press. We don’t need to be sending mixed messages from different people in our organization into the same places.

> Everyone who may potentially be in front of a journalist – let alone a camera – needs media training. I had the good fortune of being trained while at Sony by Richard Valeriani, former White House correspondant from NBC during the Nixon years. Media training is serious business. Not doing it often, thoroughly, and with extremely professional resources is foolish at best and potentially very dangerous at worst.

* * *

I’ve written about role management in the general marketing function many months ago. I think we can all agree that having a product manager run off to a channel partner and “launch” a product verbally with shadow puppets is less effective than having a fully articulated launch process run by a team that has all of its ducks in a proverbial row. If we can agree on this, we can agree on the same level of organizational discipline on the PR side of the aisle.