What We Did
MT. LASSEN, CALIFORNIA © STEVE JOHNSON
High Concept Development
When we worked with our clients, we would start by asking the fundamental questions that were critical to their long-term strategic communications, such as: what are you doing, why is it important, how will it impact the world, why will you succeed, what are your “crown jewels”, why are you unique, what’s your “next act”, who should care, and much more. And we helped them mold the answers into a High Concept, and supporting ideas, as the bedrock of their communications strategy.
It’s easy to ask the questions. But it is not always easy to reach consensus on the answers, or what they mean – especially if you are racing to develop a leadership product with half the capital and one-third the time that you really need. And it’s the rare startup that each time a new executive joins, puts the whole team in the same room – as we insisted – and makes sure everybody is talking about the same elephant in a consistent, clear, and memorable fashion.
That’s where our experience came in. We knew what to ask, how to foment discussion, drive consensus, and surface a common understanding of the answers. We often saw trends that were elusive. We helped our clients avoid reactive or “knee-jerk” communications, when instead a non-obvious or contrarian position could set them apart as the market leader.
An Ongoing Strategic Partner
Once our clients worked out their High Concept, the question was, "what do you do with it?" How do you make sure that your communications contribute to your leadership? How does your unique perspective impact everything you say – from short answers to seemingly easy questions – to off-the-cuff questions – to full overviews of your company presentation? Sometimes, developing the High Concept even impacts how you see your product definition, or whom you are targeting.
In this ongoing process, we became partners with our clients. We were there to help them apply and keep fresh their strategic communications plan, as well as provide insights into the options they might face as your company grows, and as the world changed around them.
Tactical Communications Oversight
For most of our existence, we also implemented the strategies we developed with our clients – including all those launches – so-called “classical” or tactical PR.
As a consequence, we really understood the nuances of boots-on-the-ground communications in widely-, or even wildly-varying situations: How do you encourage the market to see where you are going? What are the tactics that will help get there most effectively? When should you be subtle, and when should you be direct? What does that difference look like? How do you respond to disasters? How do you ensure communications consistency across varying market segments? And much more.
As the strategic-communications “conscience” of our clients' executive teams, we'd help them on an ongoing basis as they worked with their internal or external PR team to “get it right”. And on occasion, when they had a need – and we believed we could add particular value – we would consider specific tactical projects that fall outside our main, strategic focus.
After all, chances were we’d been there.
Call to Action
If you were a startup executive, you might have been on your first venture or fourth, but as you can see from our Client Roster, we’d done a few more... This was experience our clients could leverage.
Our main goal was to assist CEOs and their teams with a communications strategy both for the present, and for the long term, but often the ongoing process surfaced issues and answers in other areas, such as product direction or market strategy. We didn't promise this, but many of our past clients would testify that it happened – repeatedly. Because striving as a team to articulate your High Concept often exposes weaknesses in one’s strategy. We always hoped there were none, but isn’t it nice to know?
Throughout our history, we were uniquely involved with the executives and key decision makers in a wide range of technology-oriented ventures, including mature companies. We deeply understood many of the issues our clients faced. We were able to lead, point, ask questions – sometimes tough – provide insight, direction, and help them unearth the answers.
Although Roeder-Johnson Corporation ceased its strategic communications practice in September, 2023, we encourage you to benefit from what you read here, and force your communications thinking to be strategic. As our late founder Abigail Johnson used to say, "It's not the ink; it's the message."