At the HBR Centennial Gala at the end of 2022, part of the debate centered around the idea that every organization needs a foreign policy. The thinking was that the world around us has become so complex that no business isn’t affected by social, economic, and political factors. This means leaders have a significant amount that they need to know, and understand, to successfully run their business. Keeping up with all these factors on their own, to a deep enough level, is also almost impossible to do alone.
Communications in a time of permacrisis
A global energy shock, cost of living crisis, banking and tech industries in turmoil, a looming economic recession, ongoing climate emergency, and healthcare systems on their knees still reeling from a pandemic, has culminated in the most challenging time since World War 2. Alongside this, there is greater pressure than ever on public and private institutions to not just prioritize profit, but make the world a better place. This means behaving responsibly, and being open and transparent with stakeholders.
An example of an area where this is especially important is sustainability. Stakeholders, from investors to Joe Bloggs the consumer, are extremely cynical about organizations’ sustainability efforts. Greenwashing concerns continuously steal headlines, with investors even being warned about misleading claims by ESG funds.
Knowing what needs to be done, how to do it, and how to communicate progress (or lack thereof) in the most effective manner, not just in sustainability but numerous socio-political themes, is therefore essential knowledge for all business leaders.
Corporate comms is to be informed, and prepared
So, yes, the argument that every organization needs a foreign policy advisor (alongside experts in local politics, diversity and equality, the environment, and every issue that impacts the business and its stakeholders) is a sound one.
Organizations need to be informed, and prepared, for every eventuality, and have a perspective on everything that matters. Brands and their leaders are expected to take a stance on the things that matter. Apathy and, “no comment,” simply aren’t good enough anymore. And marketing fluff won’t fly anymore either, authenticity and honesty are the expectation.
To achieve this, businesses need knowledge in all the subjects that matter, from cybersecurity to sustainability, politics to social affairs. Some are even hiring experts in all of these different subjects to guide them. But the glue and guiding light that should take this insight and transform it into something meaningful for internal and external stakeholders, and safeguard the reputation of the organization, is a team that’s likely been there the whole time: corporate communications.
Corporate comms builds strategies designed to incorporate both short and long-term impact and manage friction, opportunity, and change all at the same time. This way of thinking has never been more important than today.
What’s the role of corporate comms in 2023
Perhaps to some extent this has always been corporate comms’ role, but there are two trends that have catapulted it onto center stage. First, the increasing interdependence of macroeconomic trends, and the impact they have on organizations. Business and policy can no longer be dealt with as separate entities. Gone are the days where the CEO can say, ‘I can’t be political,’ in a media interview. Neither can corporate governance and consumer service be siloed. The rapid rise of ESG compliance has told us this.
To accommodate the interest of various stakeholders, corporate comms has to see the world through a wider, multi-channel and diverse audience lens than before. Media, policy, digital, stock markets, consumers and NGOs, and how they impact each other, must be considered. Only then can corporate comms help protect, enhance and advance the organization.
As a consequence, corporate comms is no longer just a relationship with the head of PR, comms or marketing. It has to be on the agenda of the entire C-Suite, from CEO, to CIO, to Chief HR Officer.
Second, and as a result of the first, corp comms must be more integrated with other marketing and communications specialisms than ever. Communicating to media, policy makers, social media and on digital channels can no longer be done in isolation. Comms strategies have to be designed to cut across all relevant channels to ensure messages reach their target audiences in a coherent and consistent way. This means closer collaboration between teams in charge of various disciplines: media relations, public affairs, social media, and digital.
It also means adopting a new language in corporate comms that nuances this integrated, multidisciplinary shift in order to reach the broader set of decision makers within organizations – from CMOs to CEOs – who care about the impact and reputation of the business. ‘Political and regulatory awareness’ might be better suited than ‘public affairs’ for example.
The dawn of the poly-perma crisis (you heard it here first) requires a significant shift in how organizations approach their comms strategies. This is why corporate comms has to be the nerve center of all modern-day brands.
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