Whenever their companies make important decisions about the business sstartegy, Astrid Gade Nielsen of Danish Crown and Kenth Kærhøg of Danfoss both have seats at the table. But what does it take to sit at the board and deliver the communications advice in 2018?

Together, the European Association of Communication Directors and K1 highlighted the topic of an engagement dialogue in a meeting at Danish Crown in Aarhus on 22 August.

The first 100 days: business understanding and backstage passports

Already from the time of his appointment, Danish Crown CEO Jais Valeur defined a major transformation task that Astrid Gade Nielsen had to carry, although she did not have a communications master plan in her back pocket. "I knew that I had to deliver a plan before the summer vacation, but I also knew that it would only be useful if there was the right backing for it," Astrid told our audience. She involved the board of representatives in the work of the plan as they could bring the necessary business expertise to the table while ensuring the necessary ownership when the plan is to live outside the company’s walls.

When the director of Danfoss, Kim Fausing, travels to different parts of the business, Kenth Kærhøg is often involved. This way, he ensures that he has an in-depth understanding of whatever preoccupies his boss in the business and what drives his decisions. This kind of insights has been a priority for Kenth ever since he started in his new position. "I prioritized the business and built a network for key employees. It's crucial that I have a "backstage passport" to the business so I see what drives our managers and employees and what is being spoken about backstage."

A manager can hardly claim to get the whole truth when he is preparing a performance review, but a good communication function has a sense of how things within the organisation are going and with what the employees are concerned. This way, the communication function operates as an important link between senior management and employees and can provide deep insights when making decisions.

Pressing many buttons

Communication is a craft, and a senior management adviser must be able to work with all the tools in the toolbox. Both Astrid and Kenth find that when they sit at the board, management asks them about everything from PR and communication to transformation and marketing. The ability to answer these questions requires experience, and Kenth emphasised that, although age should neither be an entry requirement or a quality assurance, experience is crucial when it comes to advising at the highest level.

In Astrid's major transformation process, she and her department have had to press many buttons:

• Develop a new core story: what is Danish Crown's raison d'être?

• Develop production to be more sustainable so that it is in line with the new narrative about how Danish Crown creates a more sustainable future for the world

• Mobilise employees to tell their stories on social media

• Train in management and recruitment communication and enable leaders to tell the positive story about Danish Crown as an exciting place to work

• Manage communication in the form of Facebook campaigns, including videos about employees across the entire value chain.

• Organise international conferences: in May 2018, Danish Crown hosted Meat2030 and invited politicians, public and private actors, as well as NGOs from around the world to explore the question: "How do we make our meat more sustainable? 

In addition, Astrid Gade also sees the Danish Business Agency's focus on "Denmark as a production country" as an obvious narrative for Danish Crown to take part in and use as a lever for their transformation.

Get your hands dirty

If you, as a top communication manager, are not also an efficient operator, you will not survive, says Kenth Kærhøg. The mindset of "We can only provide advice” does not hold water in Kenth´s department. For Kenth and his department, the key to successful function is to both give advice and get their hands dirty. According to Kenth's survival guide to communications directors:

• Be a communication expert

• Bring a wide toolbox with you

• Build up lots of experience

• Work interdisciplinary: use the entire range of disciplines - not only communication or public relations, or only investor relations

• Be the voice of the outside world in the organisation

• Be the eyes and ears internally, so that you can understand and convey how the "man on the floor" sees the world

• Be a radar of what risks and opportunities are in the decisions made by management, so management can act on it in time

• Execute things. For example, big changes

• Say ‘yes’ to doing big and small things: International conferences, strategy seminars and the reception for the chairman's birthday

• Build alliances on behalf of the company