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Part 3- Strategic communication in a volatile world


In the final part of this 3 part series, Dot I/O Health’s data and insight lead Thomas Stoeckle discusses the latest research and trends in data analytics and communication, in particular for the health/life sciences/pharma space.

Getting from content to Wisdom

Perhaps the most important element of new management thinking, based on the VUCA model of an uncertain, unpredictable world (Elkington et al. 2017), as well as innovative approaches to strategy (Tavakoli et al. 2017), and the application of new practical methods of managing people and processes such as agile and scrum (Sutherland 2014; van Ruler 2015), is a reconsideration — if not abdication — of control. This can be difficult to accept, as decades of management training and practice until now have been based on the idea that tight control is good as it makes everything measurable and predictable. But that is exactly the point of VUCA: we need to learn to live with less controllability, in most if not all aspects of our lives.


There are some clear implications for the communication function of organisations: Already in 2009, communication scholar James Grunig stated that PR needed to “abandon the illusion of control” in light of the impact of digital and social media (Grunig 2009). In her introduction of the ‘Reflective Communication Scrum’, Dutch scholar Betteke van Ruler explains modern public communication as a process where “one cannot foresee who is — or will be — involved, in what way, and what the results will be” (van Ruler 2015, p.187). That is an uncomfortable perspective for a communication professional, and will require new models and processes of support and navigation.

Which is why these academic viewpoints on the decline of control, the growing importance of listening and the rise of collaborative, co-creative approaches are critical input for data driven consultancies and their clients. They are also reflected in executives’ stated views and needs, for example the latest Arthur W. Page Society global survey of 171 Chief Communication Officers (A.W. Page Society 2019a, 2019b), which highlights the dynamics between the organisation and its immediate stakeholders (such as customers, suppliers, investors, employees), but also the growing importance of ‘the public at large’:

“This requires a multi-stakeholder perspective, an appreciation of the new drivers of reputation, an arm-in-arm linkage with the company’s culture initiatives. … Stakeholders increasingly expect businesses to create not only customer and shareholder value, but broader societal value, as well”.

Connecting the Dots to Unlock Value

In a world where everything seems to be happening faster, with diminishing degrees of certainty, analytics needs to help answer the question “what will be”, rather than merely tell “what was”. This means combining the 30,000 ft bird’s eye perspective with putting one’s ear to the ground; to see the big picture as well as zooming into the pixels; to understand the global context as well as the local one, in cultural, social, political perspective; to connect all the dots.

This is a big task, as operating in such a highly dynamic and disruptive environment means aiming for a constantly moving target. Under such conditions, rigid mindsets and processes, addressing ‘target’ audiences with one-way communication, are becoming less effective. Nobody has all the answers upfront, but led by curiosity and humility in a step-by-step approach, closely working with clients, data driven consultancies have a great opportunity to make a positive difference.

As we enter the 2020s, organisations need to abandon the idea of (communication) control and imposing their views on the world outside. Instead, they need to embrace modern stakeholder management models (Freeman et al. 2010; Busch et al. 2018), prioritise listening over speaking (Macnamara 2016), and learn how to co-create shared value (Porter and Kramer 2011; Daood and Menghwar 2017).


To support this, a modern analytics function needs to provide open, flexible and scalable solutions to cover an organisation’s entire stakeholder universe. Only then will they provide relevant information on current performance together with applicable and actionable intelligence to inform better decisions.

These three simple rules will help to get started and stay on course:

[1] Start with data: too often, evaluation of communication activities is done after an event. Research needs to start before any planning. It informs planning and objective-setting.

[2] Scan the environment efficiently: analyse social and traditional media samples to answer both specific business questions, and to monitor the wider context.

[3] Don’t get lost in metrics and scorecards: what matters is that findings are expressed in actionable terms, so they lead to better, faster decisions.


A.W. Page Society, 2019a. The CCO as Pacesetter New York: Arthur W. Page Society.

A.W. Page Society, 2019b. CCO as Transformation Leader. New York: Arthur W. Page Society.

Busch, T., Hamprecht, J. and Waddock, S., 2018. Value(s) for Whom? Creating Value(s) for Stakeholders. Organization & Environment, 31 (3), 210–222.

Daood, A. and Menghwar, P. S., 2017. Understanding “Creating Shared Value”. 10th Annual Conference of the EuroMed Academy of Business.

Elkington, R., van der Steege, M., Glick-Smith, J. and Breen, J. M., 2017. Visionary Leadership in a Turbulent World: Thriving in the New VUCA Context. Emerald Publishing Limited.

Freeman, R. E., Harrison, J. S., Wicks, A. C., Parmar, B. L. and de Colle, S., 2010. Stakeholder Theory: The State of the Art. Cambridge University Press.

Grunig, J. E., 2009. Paradigms of global public relations in an age of digitalisation. PRism, 6 (2), 1–19.

Macnamara, J., 2016. Organizational Listening. The Missing Essential in Public Communication. New York: Peter Lang.

Porter, M. E. and Kramer, M., 2011. Creating Shared Value: How to Reinvent Capitalism — and Unleash a Wave of Innovation and Growth. Boston: Harvard University Press.

Sutherland, J., 2014. Scrum: A Revolutionary Approach to Building Teams, Beating Deadlines, and Boosting Productivity. London: Random House.

Tavakoli, A., Schlagwein, D. and Schoder, D., 2017. Open strategy: Literature review, re-analysis of cases and conceptualisation as a practice. The Journal of Strategic Information Systems, 26 (3), 163–184.

van Ruler, B., 2015. Agile public relations planning: The Reflective Communication Scrum. Public Relations Review, 41 (2), 187–194.

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Next generation data science driven market research and strategy for the pharmaceutical and health industry.

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