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It’s not uncommon for marketing communication (MARCOM) professionals to sometimes feel frustrated about their inability to convince “the powers that be” to free up budget dollars, or agree to try new marketing methods (most commonly online or social media related).

Through our own experiences and interactions with both C-suite leaders and communication professionals over the past several years, we’ve learned there is often one very fundamental reason for this C-suite/MARCOM disconnect: MARCOM folks failing to frame their proposals with a business perspective.

Get over yourself!

When working with people outside of marketing who often don’t fully understand (or don’t value) the role of marketing, it’s important to speak their language. Too often, though, communicators instead try to “teach” their leaders the language of marketing.

We say: “Give it up!”

If you’ve been banging your head against the wall trying to get support and approval for various marketing efforts, it’s time to stop expending time and energy in the ongoing frustration of attempting to “get senior leaders to understand marketing communications.” It’s time to turn the tables and take a different approach. It’s time to learn to speak their language. As long as senior leaders (including board members and, in some cases, venture capitalists) are in charge, it’s not about them getting us — it must be about us getting them.

In a LinkedIn marketing group we monitor, a recent post included a comment from a communicator lamenting that “all (leaders) ever care about is the bottom line — that’s not what it’s all about?” Really? What is it about then?

Whether you work for an organization that is attempting to make money (for-profit), maximize the use of its money (not-for-profit), or attain funding through donor contributions, the bottom line is what matters. Accept that, understand it, and learn to “speak the language of finance.” If you do, you’ll go a lot further toward not only seeing your ideas achieve fruition but also, most importantly, in coming up with better ideas in the first place.

To be effective, communicators must bridge the gap between where they sit and where organizational leaders sit. They must overcome the Communication department/C-suite disconnect.

What keeps the C-suite up at night?

Believe it or not, your senior leaders or C-level clients are not lying awake at night thinking about the next clever Facebook contest to run, or what new boards to add to Pinterest. While communicators count friends, followers and retweets, their senior leaders are lying awake with other things on their minds.

A recent Harvard Business Review blog post pointed to the three things that most concern CEOs:

  • Talent management: The ability to attract and retain talent to drive their organizations forward.
  • Operating in a global marketplace: And, even if your organization is not global, keep in mind that it is still part of a global marketplace.
  • Regulation and legislation: Here the authors note that this is a particularly vexing issue for those in the health care industry.

Nowhere on this list do we see “increasing our number of followers,” “generating X likes,” or winning advertising/marketing awards, because that’s not what the C-suite cares about. At best these metrics are process measures that may someday lead to relevant outcomes that will resonate with the C-suite.

Is there opportunity for communicators to have impact? Yes, there is. But they have to prove it. It’s not enough to proclaim, “This is important for us to do (whatever “this” may be…)” You have to demonstrate that impact with real numbers that are tied to real business imperatives. Do that, and you’ll get that proverbial seat at the table.

Metrics that resonate

There are no “magic metrics” that will resonate in every organization. The right metrics will depend on each organization’s strategic objectives and desired outcomes. (Hint: for those who have never seen, or read, their organization’s strategic plan, that’s a great starting point.)

There are, however, some common metrics that just may serve as a good starting point for you to demonstrate some real ROI from your social media (and other communication) efforts:

  • Increased revenue: Have you brought in new customers, sold new products or generated new prospects? How many? Can you demonstrate that this would not have occurred through other methods?
  • Reduced expenses: Are your marketing efforts saving costs that would have been expended in other ways? For instance, if you’ve shifted to more online marketing methods, are you able to point to savings in traditional advertising costs?
  • Improved service: Can you demonstrate an increase in customer or employee satisfaction that translates into meaningful benefits for your organization (e.g. increased productivity, reduced turnover, increased Net Promoter Scores)?
  • Achieved results through partnerships with other departments: Could you partner with HR to reduce recruitment costs by using online tools like LinkedIn to connect with candidates, with the call center to cut back on staffing hours, or with the development group to assist with online fundraising?

What you choose to measure does not need to be massive — it just needs to be meaningful. Put a stake in the ground, and commit to using metrics as a means to overcome the C-suite/MARCOM disconnect.

Those who are content with being communication tacticians throughout their careers can safely continue to focus on writing clever copy, generating great graphics and producing vibrant videos. Those who hope to someday reach the C-level themselves, though, must — absolutely must — learn to speak the language of the C-suite. After all, as with any form of successful marketing, the secret sauce is understanding it’s not about you — it’s about them.

Linda Pophal is a marketing communication consultant, business journalist and the owner of Strategic Communications, LLC, in Chippewa Falls. She is the author of “The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement” (Adams Media, 2014). Pophal can be reached at 715-723-2395 or at


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