Corporate communication has come a long way over the past three decades.
This is how I saw the industry when I got involved in the mid-1980s:
- Most communication was one-way, in other words, top down.
- Marketing communication was there but it was not as professional as it could be.
- Management communication was also one way with little or no feedback.
- Crisis communications hardly existed.
- Media relations was effective, especially where media people were plucked out from real editorial jobs and had a keen sense of media requirements, what makes a news story and how to angle the public relations objective. These practitioners were worth their weight in gold.
- Communication channel research was basically non-existent.
- Research (message, channel and audience analysis) was low – only the largest of companies were looking into what they were communicating and how effective it was.
The world has changed. We are living in a turbulence, disruptive environment. Speed of communication has become almost instantaneous.
The new order is political on many fronts. International politics and national politics influence corporate behaviour and culture. Important issues like people with disabilities in the workplace, gender equality, transgender rights and diversity, energy consumption, energy efficiency, the environment, carbon emissions, natural resources depletion, and even workplace wellness influence companies today. The old sabre rattling from the left against capitalism continues with capitalism continually striving to become more acceptable.
Amidst these modern day challenges, is corporate communication responding strategically and effectively?
I think the first place we could start looking at research. How much research goes into the effectiveness of communication? We are not talking here about obligatory or mandatory communication required by stockholders and other key stakeholders. We are talking about two-way communication or, simply put ,dialogue.
Let’s face it: all communication in corporate companies is commercial (to make money or save money). Think about it:
- Communication to shareholders has a commercial value – don’t communicate and see what will happen.
- Management communication has the purpose to motivate and encourage management which commercially means to make them more effective producers.
- Internal or employee communication is commercial. Take away all the smooth phraseology from HR departments and what you’re really left with is messages to motivate, inspire, warn (yes, warn, especially in today’s compliance environment, which is good), inform and in the most ambitious of companies, to engage.
- Marketing communications is certainly commercial but how much marketing communication done creates new business? Millions are spent on marketing communications and does it bring any in any new customers, new orders, sales? It’s a similar thing with corporate advertising, also known as brand advertising. What contribution do these general, feel-good advertisements achieve? They are not measured. Some will argue that brand advertising has a different purpose and does not contribute to directly to sales but overall enhances the environment for sales to take place. Believe what you want. Direct marketing, on the other hand, measures performance down to the last cent on the mailer. Research shows what direct marketing communication can achieve in sales.
Much needed today is research in the areas of:
- internal communications
- marketing communication
- management communication
- communication channels
- communications strategy
We will end it here and come back later to these areas of research that are sorely required in corporate communications and motivate an argument for each area of research.