I was recently introduced to a whitepaper published by the Arthur W. Page Society called The Authentic Enterprise. The Arthur W. Page Society is a professional association for senior public relations and corporate communications executives who seek to enrich and strengthen their profession.
The membership of the Page Society consists primarily of chief communications officers of Fortune 500 corporations, the CEOs of the world's largest public relations agencies, and leading academics from the top business and communications schools in the United States who have distinguished themselves teaching corporate communications.
The Authentic Enterprise white paper was published to promote thought leadership and education about challenges and issues that increased transparency bring to managing trust and reputation within the corporation. The paper also looks to define the role and mandate of the communication function and the Chief Communication Officer (CCO) to manage such challenges.
The white paper does a good job articulating a basic and largely realized view of communication challenges today - but falls short of providing a complete perspective that can be used to advance the agenda and the role of communication departments in corporations over the months and years to come.
I assert that ‘authenticity’ is an absolute requisite part of any communication mandate that must be managed BUT in hyper competitive markets (pick one) fueled by a global recession (impacting communication budgets) - authenticity does not pay the bills.
Every communication professional is a steward of brand and reputation, no doubt. However, the key challenge for communication leaders today is to deliver against increasing pressure to solve bigger problems for our companies. In the spirit of authenticity, these problems may be associated with managing risk, compliance and transparency, but more times than not it is about helping the company to grow leadership, accelerate sales and increase competitive advantage in our respective markets.
Government regulation of business practices, globalization and democratization of information have certainly made the challenge of managing authenticity more complex, but not to the extent where managing authenticity should be the overriding mandate of the communication department - as the white paper suggests.
Much has changed but many things remain the same.
In my 14 year career as a communications professional, I have seen marginal advancement in the design and execution of the corporate communication function.
Many communication departments today still fight the perception of being mostly associated with the production of press releases and success of the department is determined by the effectiveness of media relations. This is despite the many other critical areas supported by most communication departments, such as internal communications, analyst relations, investor relations and government relations - to name a few.
Business is about people and relationships.
The internal and external audiences that many communication departments are tasked to manage have increased with dramatic scope over the last few years. Since the rise of the Internet we have gone from the luxury of being able to manage one-to-one relationships with a handful of the ‘most important’ editors, analysts and policy makers, to having to manage relationships with numerous communities, social networks, and crowds of citizen journalists and industry experts of all sorts – which are now starting to blur between internal and external audiences, thanks to Web 2.0 tools.
The challenges have grown to be quite phenomenal and formidable for communication departments to manage, indeed. However, to say that we have lost control (as the white paper suggests) is a cope out. Communications departments and professionals must adapt to new audience engagement models, practices, technologies, communication tactics, and organizational designs.
The industry relationship management component of the communication charter distinguishes the function from all others.
Communication professionals (perhaps more than any other function) are best positioned to support a company’s strategic needs in an increasingly transparent and competitive world, based on our innate ability to cultivate positive perceptions and experiences for our company’s products, services, brands, and leadership personalities.
Among other things, the key to managing the scale and unique demands of a growing and dynamic audience (internal and external) requires that we adapt to more interactive programs and strategies that allow for the exchange of ‘insights’ and facilitation of ‘conversations’ that influence both our targeted audiences and the corporation.
Done well, this will improve the valuation of the communication function as we reach and influence vast audiences of shareholders, policy makers, customers, partners, journalists, analysts, and employees in impressive and highly scaleable fashion. At SAP, the communication department manages relationships with external audiences that have a $54B impact (against a $75B market opportunity) on purchase decisions for business software, annually. Put into this perspective, the opportunity is ripe and table is perfectly set for communications teams to use the ‘advantage of relationships’ to support company growth (sales and market share) and to advance the competitive position for our companies.
The white paper is indeed good work by the Page Society as it provides a level-set of important issues that need to be part of every communications management agenda in today’s world. However, we must remember that modern day communications (as it has evolved from the innovations of Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee in the early 19th century) helped to advance companies through the industrial revolution in ways that helped to establish new market opportunities and changed the way in which business was done - well before modern day marketing came to exist.
As we enter a sea change among industries, the chief communication officer must play a more prominent role in supporting business growth and market advancement. If not, the communication function will be marginalized by the ‘business driven’ prowess of marketing and other corporate functions and initiatives.
Perhaps the ‘next chapter’ of the Authentic Enterprise series might focus on the Advancement of the Authentic Enterprise, providing tangible examples, practical strategies and tactics to help communication professionals at companies of all size, scope and geography be more competitive and strategic in their roles.