I love sporting competitions.  I have attended many world-level events in figure skating and curling.

Elite sporting events are an opportunity to see the world’s best athletes demonstrate their sport.  They are also an opportunity for the sporting organization to generate interest in their sport or kindle a fire in those already engaged to continue their pursuit of excellence.

So, you might think that the spectators or fans at these events (the audience) might be considered to be special guests. Unfortunately, that is not the case.  Unless spectators are part of a VIP corporate sponsor’s entourage, they are treated like cattle from start to finish.  The common spectator is relegated to: buy the less than ideal seats, provided with very little information about what is happening on the competition arena; gouged by onsite retailers; stand in long lines for washrooms and be unceremoniously herded back out of the venue.

It struck me that this is often what happens with corporate communications – those in the know or those sponsoring programs deliver messages that are not consistent with the intended audience’s expectations or with that audience’s experience/knowledge.  As a result, programs are ignored, judged as irrelevant or (worst) met with scorn by the very people for whom they were intended.

Over the past several years the corporate communications buzzword has been “engagement” but to truly engage people, you must capture their interest, deliver something they judge of value, help them learn and ask for their support. Elite sports do capture interest but a spectator must break the bank and endure inhospitable venues to determine whether there is anything of value in building a relationship.

Executives always need to bear in mind that the people they want to engage have a very different experience of the organization.  Appealing to employees on the shop floor or in the cubicle means taking the time to appreciate their vantage point and helping them understand how what they do and how they do contributes to the overall.

The spectator experience is a huge factor in that determination and the sooner sports understand that, the better.  Likewise, the organizations that take time and spend the effort to truly appreciate the organization from the ordinary workers’ perspective are much more likely to have an engaged workforce.