Shifting sands – Part II

Corporate communications (CC) has evolved over the past decade. It is now an integral part of business strategy and finds a seat at the leadership level.

Communicators need to evolve and keep themselves up to date with the changing dynamics of the geo-political environment. With the function now serving a critical role, the communicator is expected to be up to date with knowledge and possess a keen understanding of policies and its impact on the business.

For instance, the on-going war and conflict between Russia and Ukraine has world-wide repercussions and the ripples are felt all across. Communicators need to be clued on to the impact on global business, trade, concessions, and other issues related to it. The stance that your country and/or organization takes on the war is critical to the narrative. Brands are sensitive to global events and their impact. Volatility in stock markets and increasing fuel prices can lead to a squeeze in trade margin. Humanitarian aid to such disasters call for a realignment of corporate social responsibility budgets. This was also witnessed during the Covid-19 phase wherein most of the budgets were refocused on providing immediate healthcare support. All of these decisions get woven in the over arching positioning of the organisation. Hence, the CC function has to be extremely nimble and fluid in changing its story as each day unfolds.

Moving beyond the media

At one time, the media was the key stakeholder for the CC function. While it continues to remain important, there is a struggle between time and attention and between the print and social media. With the expansion of various channels and medium, the reach has multiplied and become more complex. Media strategy now demands customisation as per region/geography.

While content continues to remain the king, using the same content across all social media platforms no longer works. A communicator needs to be well-versed with the game and understand the pulse of the stakeholder. If your customers are Gen Z, they are not going to read the print version of a mainline. They are present on social media. Infographics, visuals and audio podcasts hold their interest more than print.

Government and bureaucracy on the other hand is a different kind of stakeholder altogether. Relationship building and networking play a critical role. Often the government is on the lookout for solutions from the private sector – communicators need to ensure that their story is solution driven and not just a vehicle for highlighting failures or complaints about what is not working. Additionally, an organisation’s freedom to operate often depends on government approvals – hence communicators need to be sensitive to the local situation and improvise their messaging accordingly.

This deep understanding of the policy environment also calls for communicators to collectively collaborate with the legal team so that the pros and cons of each message is carefully thought of. Scenario planning along with presence of critical business leaders is now every much part of developing the message board.

Gone also is the era of having one single spokesperson for the organisation. Communicators who understand this, are quick to have in place a second rung of spokespersons. These are typically heads of functions/businesses and who are deeply involved in the ground operations. By providing them with the prerequisite media training and equipping them with a consistent message board, communicators can build a strong team of spokespersons to work with them collaboratively and represent the organisation as one. The ‘one’ organisation theme cuts across all stakeholders, including employees and can be a strong glue that binds the overall narrative together.

The remarkable evolution of the CC role and function calls for an agile, dynamic and fluid team that has an eye for the big picture and is able to connect the short-term narrative to the long-term business goals.

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

Sarita Bahl
Sarita Bahl is an alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Swedish Institute of Management Program. An experienced and versatile leader, she comes with nearly four decades of professional experience. She has over the years successfully overseen the communications and public affairs function and led the corporate social responsibility strategy for Bayer South Asia, Pfizer, and Monsanto, among others. Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, the public sector, trade associations, MNCs, and the not-for-profit sector. Her areas of interest include advocacy, stakeholder engagement, sustainability, and communications.

As an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) from the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and Senior Practitioner (Mentoring) from the European Council of Mentoring and Coaching (EMCC), Sarita specializes in career transition, inner engineering and life issues. Sarita enjoys writing and is passionate about animals, books, and movies.

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