Understanding the value of Corporate Communications

All too often the Corporate Communications function is misunderstood by other areas of a business. An obvious way to address what the CC department is responsible for and where it adds value to an organisation is to educate people of where it fits within the company, but unfortunately there’s a common underlying problem that prevents CC from being viewed as it should be – the inability to say no to certain things.

Saying no or pushing back on particular requests does not have anything to do with being lazy or uninterested, rather it affirms the CC remit and enables you to better allocate resources where they have the highest impact. Remember, prior to saying no, make sure you have a few things weighed up – who are the stakeholders and how senior/influential are they? At the end of the day, how much value/change will this project make to the organisation? What is the worst thing that can happen to the business if you don’t do this? Don’t get stuck in a habit of being a yes person – by always saying yes as a communicator you are painting the wrong picture about your skills, knowledge and expertise.

If you asked any CC director or leader about how they want the department to be recognised within the business, I’d put money on the fact that the vast majority would make mention of their desire to be seen as more strategic. This is because Corporate Communications is frequently thrown logistics type jobs and tactical tasks that realistically anyone could do. While CC should always provide excellent guidance, support and recommendations for business unit/function-specific communications and marketing activities, it should not be left with handling the dog shit jobs because others don’t want to.

Let’s look at an example…

  • A specific business division approaches CC asking for their support in creating a brand new marketing brochure to include in delegate bags at an upcoming conference or event.
  • CC meets with the relevant person from the business division to discuss the requirements, and understand the intent.
  • CC then drafts the copy, gets it professionally designed and signed off by the relevant stakeholders.
  • Once signed off, CC sends the print-ready artwork file, order details and contact information for a preferred printing service back to the business division rep. CC also recommends the business division rep prepares a purchase order form in advance so the supplier can be paid on time and commence work.
  • The business division rep comes back saying they were under the impression CC organises printing and payment for the brochure.
  • CC responds, clarifies its role and apologises if this wasn’t made clear (even though it was abundantly so).
  • The business division rep is now pissed off they have to deal with this part of the job and thinks CC isn’t interested in helping them.

CC has:

  • Written the copy, ensuring key messages are consistent and support the company’s goals
  • Briefed its graphic designer on task requirements and the deadline
  • Carefully proofed the first cut (probably multiple times)
  • Possibly requested some small changes from the designer
  • Provided the business unit rep with:
    • The print-ready artwork file
    • All the necessary specs to send to the printer
    • The contact info for a reliable and preferred printer

CC also mentions that they’re happy to help with any questions they might have.

All the business unit rep needs to do is:

  • Make contact with the printer
  • Forward an email with the print-ready artwork file
  • Arrange payment

In the above scenario, CC has well and truly done its part and should not be made to feel as though it hasn’t. I always think the best approach – assuming timing, priorities and current workload permit – is to go above and beyond with serving the business where and when you can. If it’s a quiet time with not much on, go ahead – do the whole thing for them…but make sure you’re clear that it’s not something you usually do, otherwise it’ll become an expectation.

How much time should communicators spend on tactical work, and how much time should they spend advising, coaching and training other managers and executives? My personal view is that the latter is more important. Why? Because of human nature – if you continue to always do everything for people, they’ll never learn how to do it themselves and will always rely on you. This principle rings true no matter what scenario it’s applied to. CC should enable and empower others with the training and the tools they need to do things themselves. If the CC team is too busy completing trivial tasks all the time, the function and capability will never evolve.

Defining the work, who does it and how it gets done impacts how CC is perceived. The key to shaping this into a positive perception will sometimes involve saying no, but by boldly defining the breadth and value of CC, you can elevate its role from one of tactical support discipline to strategic business driver. Corporate Communications should not be seen as the arts and crafts department. Instead, it should be known as a vital resource for protecting and enhancing the company’s reputation.