The Corporate Communication Department – An Army in Peacetime

To understand the need for Corporate Communication, it becomes imperative to understand what Corporate Communication is.

Corporate communication is a corporation’s attempt to communicate with all key stakeholders. It is the voice with which corporate institutions interact with the outside world and is inclusive of communications with investors, government, labor and employees.

It is the process of facilitating information and knowledge exchanges with internal and key external groups and individuals that have a direct relationship with an enterprise.

So why not hire a PR agency to communicate with the relevant stakeholders? Why spend the money to maintain a full-fledged department that could be seen by some as a source of drain on the company resources?

To answer this a little history lesson is in order. Post liberalization, in the 90s the MNCs brought with them the culture of ‘Brands’ and as brands vied for consumer attention, PR companies vied for the business of these brands.

The need for Public Relations to be more strategic, rather than tactical, led to the evolution of corporate communication in India. With sharp focus on the inherent need for brands to be performing assets, communication needs became more sophisticated. Perhaps for the first time, communication strategies became more industry specific. With industry specific communication and PR requirements and the increasing need for accountability at various levels, Corporate Communication followed a natural birth plan in India.

Thus, began an era of a holistic, strategic approach to communication with stakeholders (or Corporate Constituencies).

What essentially began as an internal function, slowly and surely spread its wings to envelope a larger more all-encompassing role…in that, it was required to be answerable to many constituencies at once.

With the media maturing in India, the need for more sophisticated spokespeople who were more invested in the health of the corporate in question, was on the rise. Such a mature role was not the terrain of a PR company any more. A dedicated department that was not distracted other clients and size of business, started becoming the norm.

Today more than ever, when companies are constantly put through the litmus test by the media and other stakeholders, Corporate Communications is a functional imperative not an operational option.

So, for example when a special interest group forces an MNC to react on the pesticide levels in their cola, what is required is a seasoned company official from the highest echelons of the company responding with confidence rather than PR speak from a third party, whose only vested interest is the retainer its being paid. Or for that matter, when your favorite instant snack is accused of being laden with the vilified MSG, the assurance and accountability, in response, expected from the company is possible and plausible only when it comes from within the company.

In order for communication to be effective and efficient it has to be part of a larger process that should be in place, before, a crisis like situation develops. The need to preempt a crisis is the keel of the crisis communication ship, to ensure smooth sailing on the Corporate Communications waters. With social media being an all-pervading demon that raises its head at the most inappropriate of times, having a crisis communication plan at hand is now inescapable.

A three-step process that can help prepare a company for any impending crisis would be such… Prepare, Execute and Recover. It’s therefore important to consider probable warning signs (in order to Prepare) so that one can face the crisis head on in the execution stage. While in the Recovery stage, one needs to proactively communicate and track effectiveness, via the tools at our disposal.

With Corporate wars being fought in the virtual space, knowledge of social media is inexplicably important. Social media engages audience as opposed to informing it. It is unstructured and decentralized. It talks directly to the customers and fosters citizen journalism and can hence be a double-edged sword. Having said that, a smart corporate communicator will get ahead of the story and mould the narrative to suit the interest of the constituencies of the corporate in question.

In order to do that, one needs to establish online presence early, post timely updated content, use analystics to monitor media and finally evaluate and adjust the company response accordingly.

Unfortunately the lack of awareness about the inherent benefits of corporate communication leads to lack of communication, untimely responses and eventually companies that have penny pinched in peacetime lose the war during a crisis.

The invaluable lesson here is to have an organizational structure that supports corporate communication as an organic function, not merely a cosmetic one.

By: Ms. Neha Singh,

Assistant Professor

Department of Media and Communication Studies

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