The Education Times edition of the Times of India dated May 11, 2009 carried an article on Corporate Communications and its role by taking the viewpoint of leading Indian practitioners.
Interestingly, there wasn’t a consensus among these leading professionals on what constitutes corporate communication leave alone the roles and responsibilities of the function.
The benefits perceived were stronger reputation, goodwill, improved chances of business wins, ability to attract the best talent and knowledge exchange among stakeholders – all excellent points.
But, the way the practitioners described the function was curious.
Here are some of the statements.
- “Involves reaching out to multiple stakeholders, ranging from employees, customers and investors, to government, quasigovernment and trade bodies, doing all it can to ensure that the equity of the organization is represented appropriately to them”
- “During the heydays of the ill-famed License Raj and the closed economy, communication for a company was essentially a government relationship exercise. Post liberalization, companies felt the need to be in constant touch with their stakeholders across geographical boundaries and this lead to the evolution of corporate communications as a strategic management function.”
- “Corporate communications professionals have assumed the role of brand messengers, who are agents of change”
- “The receiver, manager and producer of press releases!”
The key take-away for me is that – how each individual perceived his or her task defined how the function is perceived. Also, how much their organization values their work reflects their feelings for their job.
The other interesting aspect which I observed was the route considered ideal to enter into this field was articulated differently by each. Considering this particular publication is read by students and practitioners alike, it did not provide a clear answer to how people can join the corporate communication role. I began my career in advertising before I entered this function – and I have a background in Science and Marketing.
Ironically, the article mentions the role is ‘the envy of other functions due to the proximity it enjoys with decision makers’. I disagree on this point. The ability to add value and the respect which senior leadership provides to this function should be the cause of envy not just the ‘proximity’. This danger of ‘proximity’ is the cause for most communicators losing their ability to function when they end up becoming ‘paper pushers’ and ‘voices and writers of senior leaders’ from what I have observed in the Indian industry.
The professionals also believe the usual route is for someone in journalism to meander into corporate communication. Quite unlike reality where I have seen people with absolutely no background in writing, advertising, PR, direct marketing or basic communication enter this field merely on the basis of their interest and drive.
Skills requires for the function were articulated as written and spoken English, soft skills, ability to network with people, inquisitiveness and time-consciousness. If you look at research, these skills are more or less a given in the industry. What the role expects is leadership skills, ability to influence, adapt, translate messages for communication, provide direction and guidance on channels, an eye on opportunities to engage with stakeholders, listening skills and most importantly, the passion for the job.
I did a literature review and found some insights which may be of value to practitioners in understanding the definition and also what is expected of corporate communicators.
In a study by Dolphin and Fan (2000), ‘Is Corporate Communications A Strategic Function?’ corporate communications is defined as ‘the strategic management process by which an organization communicates with its various audiences to the mutual benefits of both and to its improved competitive advantage.’
The professional is known to play varied roles: ‘planner, watchdog, catalyst, communicator, savant, stimulant, advisor and confidant’. The awareness of his organization’s corporate identity, corporate philosophy, style and structure is also expected to be high.
According to the study, out of the 21 organizations accessed in UK, it seems like only one leveraged communication and had a seat at the table among the steering committee, despite the committee being the driving force. I am unsure if Indian organizations can vouch for their number to be higher.
The authors conclude that how traditional an organization is and the less it has changed its structures – the less likely it is to make full use of the powers that good communications.
There is little doubt that the corporate communication function needs a rethink on how it can improve its image, get recognized as a strategic function, coach managers and leaders and add value by demonstrating ROI on communication.
What do you think?