ITL #334 Revolution on the work floor: the changing structure of communications units3 years, 6 months ago
Leaders of corporate communications functions are having to rethink their strategic approach and reshape structures to create engagement engine rooms. By Lutz Meyer.
Anyone who works in a communications department is experiencing it. The structure of communications units is changing, tasks are becoming more diverse and complex, and there is increasing collaboration with other operational units.
Perhaps most importantly, the firm’s leadership is increasingly involved in the planning and implementation of communications strategies. Every project is now a campaign, everything is in real time and probably 24/7. And content is king, with storytelling the queen.
Are these just buzzwords, that will vanish soon, mirroring the hype triggered by digitalization and social media? Or are we seeing a systemic shift that requires swift and fundamental change?
In my view, the private sector’s increasingly prominent role in our society is irrevocably changing the way corporations engage with stakeholders. Inevitably, leaders of communications functions have to rethink their strategic approach and reshape structures because this new role also brings new responsibilities.
These changes are here to stay. But why?
Sustainability: integral to business strategy
It is abundantly clear we are facing unprecedented challenges and there is a lot to do. Laila Pawlak, Co-founder and CEO of SingularityU-Nordic, recently summarised the job: “There is a global to-do-list out there: the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.”
The SDGs are already changing how corporations and their top managers act and communicate. However, there are still plenty of political leaders who are apparently not willing, capable or empowered to tackle the challenges successfully.
It is, therefore, the private sector’s responsibility to use the SDG framework to develop viable solutions for the problems the world is facing. And that is what is behind the changes we’re seeing in corporate communications functions.
‘Inclusive Capitalism’ has been bandied around a lot recently. I think ‘Creating Shared Value' is a better term; it was coined by Harvard professor Martin S. Porter in 2010 in collaboration with Nestlé. And there’s nothing wrong with good old ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’.
Whatever the name, helping solve the existing global issues should be an integral component of every company’s corporate and go-to-market strategies. Communications teams, because of our capability to create awareness and set agendas, have a key role to play in planning and managing the necessary engagement processes.
What do these changes actually mean for day-to-day corporate communications work?
Setting the agenda and thought leadership – a seat in the board room
The first point is that we have to work closely with the CEO and their strategic planning experts, to synchronise the themes and delivery of communications and engagement campaigns. The only way the head of communications can actually contribute to the firm’s and the CEO’s thought leadership positioning and sustainability is by sitting at the executive leadership table. There is no other way of ensuring business and communications strategies are fully aligned.
Synchronising messaging – integration of marketing and corporate communications
The majority of speeches and articles I’ve prepared recently for senior executives have centred on “agile working”, “sustainability”, “customer journey” and “Net Promoter Score”. It’s not because I like these terms particularly but because they reflect leaders’ day-to-day focus.
Purchase and procurement decisions are of course based on the quality of the product or service. Increasingly, they are also based on the supplier’s corporate reputation, which can have a knock-on impact on the buyer, positive or negative. Success is the sum of all corporate brand impressions.
Therefore, marketing and corporate communications cannot exist in isolation. Getting the message to customers and stakeholders requires the harmonisation of messages and the convergence of marketing and communications structures.
Newsroom – focusing on owned media
You can call it what you want: content hub, news room, editorial desk, or anything else really. But the new approach to content development, thematic agenda setting, and channel utilisation perfectly reflects further convergence: internal and external communications, marketing and corporate communications, traditional and social media.
Experienced news editors, feature writers, social media community managers, social media content creators and designers are working together – often in the same room – to create both written and visual content, and to run the engagement engine room of corporate communications.
The migration of content creators and storytellers from media outlets to in-house functions keeps on going. Journalists, multi-media graphic designers and videographers are all moving away from news outlets.
Having these experienced and skilled communicators on board makes it even more important for corporate communications to retain control by leading content and thematic coordination across geographies and time zones. As ever, this matters most when issues management and crisis communications are required.
If you ask company leaders what keeps them awake at night, it’s more than likely you’ll hear about the war for talent. Employer branding is a key tool in that war and it can only be managed successfully if relevant functions work together. In this instance, that could include HR, corporate communications and events management.
The objective is that messages, imagery and storytelling reach current and potential employees in a synchronised way, that is easy to understand and buy into – making the right people join or stay.
Company spokesperson – from media relations to stakeholder management
In the past, spokespeople focused on being the media’s gateway to the firm’s leadership and corporate information. Today, journalists receive quotes and factual information from CEOs directly, in real-time, via their personal Twitter account, through the company’s digital and social media channels, or even via private messaging. The role of the spokesperson as the media gatekeeper is diminishing.
Instead, the focus is now more on orchestrating corporate multi-channel engagement and building strategic alliances with both public and private sector partners. It is these alliances, covering business, politics, science and the civil society, that can successfully address our burning societal issues, with the SDGs as the framework. These are the activities that should drive the communications agenda and therefore are the priorities for a company’s communicator.
What does that all mean for the communications department and its heads? The following roles will determine the future of the top corporate communications job:
- Leader – Working much more intensively as part of the C-suite
- Publisher – Thinking and acting like the head of a publishing house: driving themes and developing multi-media content using all channels, with different target audiences at their core
- Integrator – Synchronising messages and channels
- Promoter – Protecting and improving the customer and stakeholder experience with the corporate brand
- Engager – Setting the agenda and networking with diverse stakeholders
These developments are real. They are happening already. I am convinced this is great for our profession and will make in-house communications experts even more effective in helping deliver what our society needs while contributing to the overall performance of the firms they work for.
Lutz Meyer leads the focus on international advocacy at Leidar across the influencing axes of Geneva, Brussels and London. He develops communications and advocacy strategies for international organisations and also advises on organisational in-house structures related to sustainable strategy implementation.
Lutz Meyer is a senior consultant at international brand and reputation management consultancy LEIDAR.mail the author
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