Five mistakes best avoided while engaging corporate communications teams

How not to damage your corporate communication team’s reputation and in the process, your organisation’s brand

While a lot is spoken of how communications teams add value to the business, very little is said about how organisations consciously or unconsciously discredit the team’s reputation and in the process, do more harm than good for their own brands. In this post I am writing a few key themes that leaders can be aware of to avoid the mistakes that can create angst within a powerful function and destroy their own images.

To begin with, there is no doubt that the corporate communications team, as a boundary spanning group, has immense clout – within and beyond the organisation. Boundary spanners are those who straddle multiple dimensions of engagement and cross functional and organisational boundaries to create opportunities and make an impact. Research reports indicate that organisations who invest in such teams  benefit multifold when it comes to stakeholder management and reputation. The strength of the communication team reflects the organisation’s ability to foster engagement and drive change.

Over the last two decades, I have closely observed actions taken by organisations leaders who probably were unaware of how they have marred and scarred their own reputations. With the increased rate of globalisation, stakeholder expectations and growing attention organisations get, the corporate communications function today plays a strategic role in improving cohesion, presenting a unified narrative and enhancing corporate performance.

  • Undervaluing the team’s capabilities: When the team’s clout is under-valued, most organisations don’t realise how quickly having a demoralised communications function snowballs into a larger crisis and reputational challenge -for leaders and employees alike. You are creating a band of highly motivated detractors who have immense reach and influence across social media and various other channels. The negative word of mouth creates a huge impact when it comes to hiring for the function with people hesitant to join organisations and leaders who are disrespectful and undermine the impact the team can add. It isn’t about how much you can pay to get the candidate. It is about the culture the organisation wants the communication professional to work in.
  • Misunderstanding diversity: This is an often-misused word to hire communication candidates. Diversity isn’t about the gender of the individual. It is about the ability, the maturity to accept varied ideas, creative approaches, newer ways of influencing and driving the agenda.  Irrespective of the age, orientation, caste, creed and what have you, leaders and organisations must go with the candidate’s ability to connect the dots, rally employees, make the most of resources, craft strategic change interventions and demonstrate significant impact by measuring the value of communications. When the hiring is about the personality type and not about competencies, the organisation is creating a culture of mediocrity. 
  • Structure and reporting: There is no doubt that forward looking organisations place this function directly with the CXO and not within operations, human resources, legal, facilities, administration or any other team. While these teams are important for the organisation’s functioning, their ability to understand communications is limited just like how communicators aren’t experts in those domains. By placing the team in the wrong domain, it undermines the value and influence of communications as a strategic function. 
  • Misplacing the team’s capabilities: The worst mistake an organisation can do is to discount the real value of the team and instead use the team’s strengths for personal gains. From tapping the relationships to build ‘personal brands’ to investing in ‘favorite’ initiatives that may have worked elsewhere and hoping to force-fit them, the ramifications can be disastrous. When the team members see leaders discounting effort or not acknowledging great work, they will feel let down and voice it ways the organisations and leaders have limited control over. Nothing can be worse than a team who is demoralised not because they don’t have the smarts, but that the leadership and organisation can’t see the value they add.
  • Dismissing advice and counsel: One of the mistakes that leaders also do is to hire experts but micromanage to a point of suffocation leaving communicators wondering if they made the right decision to join such a workplace. Instead of focusing on long term goals, mediocre organisations invest in short term gains to demonstrate how well the brands ‘looks’ to stakeholders. Unfortunately, the rot within can get so tough to reverse that overcoming their faults can only mean taking actions like seeking new communicators to come in and turn the tide. The damage done within is hard to overcome (read: to the culture and reputation) since seeding doubt and confusion will make rumor mills abuzz and build unrest within the system.

The immense contribution that the corporate communications team makes for the organisation can only be felt when there are lesser egos at play and more focus on creating a shared appreciation of the function. For which, it cuts both ways – the corporate communicator must be consistently demonstrating measurable outcomes while organisations must invest in giving the leader autonomy and support to deliver superior outcomes.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Aniisu Verghese
Aniisu K. Verghese is an award winning corporate communications and social responsibility practitioner with over 20 years of experience in leading multinational organizations. He is the author of Internal Communications – Insights, Practices and Models and is passionate about engaging communicators and students through workshops, speaking engagements, teaching assignments and blogging.

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