– Bill Gates, Microsoft Founder
According to the book Essentials of Corporate Communication by Cees van Riel and Charles Fombrun the term Corporate Communication can be defined as “the set of activities involved in managing and orchestrating all internal and external communications aimed at creating favorable starting points with stakeholders on which the company depends. Corporate communication consists of the dissemination of information by a variety of specialists and generalists in an organization, with the common goal of enhancing the organization’s ability to retain its license to operate”.
Recently the Marketing Week Magazine described Public Relations as the discipline that looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support as well as influencing opinion and behavior among stakeholders. According to the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary: “the business of inducing the public to have understanding for and goodwill toward a person, firm, or institution.”
Despite all the misunderstanding surrounding the definition of the terms “reputation management”, “corporate communication” and “public relations”, there is no doubt all organizations nowadays need to be in charge of their own reputation through the effective communication of corporate values and successful management of the relationship with their targeted publics.
Creating and maintaining a respectable reputation capable of positively impacting the business isn’t easily achievable. It’s a long term process of constant validation and revalidation of positive messages in the audiences’ mind delivered by different trustful sources. The bottom line is: “perception is reality”.
In a nutshell the core job of a professional communicator is to build up and shape the image and/or reputation of a brand, company or organization in order to influence and persuade their audiences. The best way to achieve this purpose is to have credible people advocating on your behalf, therefore it’s not about what you say about yourself (advertising) but about others say about you (endorsement).
Of course each choice has its pros and cons. The advertising will give you total control of the message you want to deliver, when and where you want it. On other hand, the public relations program won’t give you the control but will give you something much more important these days: veracity and credibility.
The power of endorsement has been explored by marketing and advertising for decades, it’s very common to see celebrities endorsing a product that they probably never use, however this method has a most powerful effect when the “approval” comes time after time from multiple and reliable sources such as traditional media, social media, acquaintances, costumers, employees and partners.
According with the Global Brand Influencers 2009, a poll conducted in 22 countries, when it comes to company communication channels, Brand Influencers, like consumers generally, are skeptical about corporate advertising. They are more likely to trust a company’s spokespeople than its advertising – three in five find company spokespeople/CEOs credible, but just one in six finds them very credible.
The clear implication of this is that, while Brand Influencers are more likely than consumers generally to make use of company sources of information, like the general public, it is the media and people close to them who they place most trust in. It emphasizes just how important it is to develop and maintain good relations with the press to ensure positive coverage on TV and radio news and therefore positively influence the views of Brand Influencers. At the same time, it also shows how crucial it is to get the customer interface just right, as it affects not only the views of your immediate customers but also those they talk to, particularly if these customers fall into this key opinion forming group. The Brand Influencers are the antithesis of the passive consumer and will quickly translate their beliefs about your company into words and actions – and the effect of their opinions are likely be felt far and wide. (Global Brand Influencers 2009, Ipsos)
Therefore a company that acknowledges the importance of a professional corporate communications management is directly investing in their reputation, an undeniable value asset that, if efficiently handled brings numerous benefits for the company business, and when poorly managed can quickly destroy it.
Professional corporate communications management is based on consistency, transparency and leadership, keys to reach these “endorsing audiences” in a proper way and this is only possible if the communication is managed by experts.
Consistency is reflected in many ways inside the organization, for instance: (1) the unity promoted by an “integrated communication” among all communications departments (advertising, investor relations, public relations, etc) to assure that the key stakeholders are receiving a similar and accurate message in alignment with the corporate speech, (2) the promptness needed to truthfully respond to the evolving online channels including all new media in the same way as to traditional media (3) the regularity of the company’s exposure in the different channels and in the key audience’s minds as a consequence (4) the coherence between the messages spread by the organization and their behavior with the employees, customers and in society.
Transparency is another aspect that should be considered in the entire communication strategy. Besides the clarity of message and positioning, that becomes a vital skill to engage the public in a turbulent information world, it’s also important to act as radar and sometimes the conscience of the company, always analyzing external risks and threats. That can be verified in the article Leadership in the Age of Transparency published by Harvard Business Review that affirmed: “the key to becoming a contemporary corporation leader is to take on responsibility for externalities – what economists call the impacts you have on the world for which you are not called to account”. One of the communication area functions is to be alert to these externalities, anticipating future trends for the top management, advising transparency, proactive solutions and integrity to avoid future crises.
Leadership in communications means that the organization’s top management needs to understand and internalize that to become a trustful source of information for the public it’s necessary to offer more than only reliable information but also to learn to listen to the public. It’s about how your message fits in what people want to know more about and what is relevant for them. It’s also about understanding the root of audiences’ behaviors, weaving it in the organization’s strategy and pointing out these trends publicly. These days, decisions are not so much about being reactive or proactive as about being interactive and this is not optional anymore.
Ultimately, in an era of digital channels and easy access to all sorts of information consistency, transparency and leadership are more than ever key factors which construct a solid corporate reputation. In addition, integrate the communication and learn how to deal with different stakeholders at the same time instead of narrow your audiences are important factor as well.
That is exactly what keeps the Communications Directors awake at night as can be seen in this poll with top UK in-house PR professionals, conducted by PRWeek UK and Brands2Life (2009) regarding their concerns and plans. The follows are the key challenges faced by their companies: 65% said: ‘Integrating comms across the business’, 57% said: ‘Communicating with diverse stakeholders’, 43% said: ‘Executing an online strategy’. Here, then, are the three biggest headaches of a modern-day comms director: trying to get the company speaking with the same voice, trying to reach everyone you need to at once, and making sure your web presence is second-to-none. Other concerns include maintaining trust (47%), managing news in a world of 24-hour media (28 %), and maintaining a share of voice (22 %).
In summary, all organizations irrespective of the size or sector can benefit from having an efficient corporate communications department in place which will bring a real competitive advantage for the business by adding value and credibility to the corporation, its products and services, protecting its reputation in times of crisis, attracting new talent and investments for the organization, engaging people and opening new markets. That’s what will ensure exposure in the right places, remembered for the right reasons and at the right time.