How do you describe the communication function in an organisation?
Defining the role of a communication professional, how they contribute to the growth of an organisation can be difficult to explain. Some people call it PR, communication, corporate affairs, community engagement or marketing. If asked to explain how does communication differs from marketing it will get a variety of answers, from an outsider’s point of view the understanding may be somewhat blurred.
Absolutely Fabulous the British comedy that ran for 20+ years has the two famous exaggerated characters Eddie and Patsy PR professionals, who live a life of excess. Throughout the series and in this sketch, Eddie and Patsy also find it difficult to define just exactly what a PR person does.
We might laugh at the Absolutely Fabulous series but the reality is people do find it hard to articulate the value of the communication function in an organisation. Without successful communication of an organisation’s brand, product or service we would not be aware of the organisation. The brand would disappear into the background of a competitive market.
My simple definition is…..
Communication speaks with the consistent voice of the organisation, purpose, values, relationships and goals.
Organisations either create a product or provide a service. Communication provides the conduit to reach and engage with customers and internal/external stakeholders to be aware of the organisation and its product or service.
Organisations must be fully aware of how their brand differs from others and how this will benefit their customers. A product or service will not reach the status of being known or trusted without being marketed and if planned with strategic communication it can build trust in both the product and the organisation.
Some people understand this concept as marketing and interchange the two words marketing and communication. Whilst they are similar and both essential, marketing and communications have differences, a blended partnership of both is the most effective approach (Moser 2014).
Marketing is specifically focused on a product or service, preparing people to buy. Research, awareness, promotion, how to reach a customer, supply, production, delivery, point of sale and ROI are key considerations. A great marketing plan will place the product before an audience who is primed and ready to buy. Good marketing reduces the need for hard selling (Kotler, P & Keller, KL 2016).
Communication, in particular, a communication strategy raises the awareness of the organisation, its products or services and builds its reputation. Strategic communication plans may use marketing, advertising and media strategies; undertake cross-functional research methods for example audience segmentation; use an integrated approach to reach the target audience through multiple channels and strategies.
5 things communication professionals do to grow organisations?
1. Communication professionals are more than wordsmiths, they pay particular attention to the meaning of a message from the sender and the receiver. A message has many elements: words, phrases, images, symbols, graphic elements, tone, pitch, music, timing, appearance may frame the meaning of a message (Tankard 2001). Communication professionals use their in-depth understanding of message elements to achieve the organisation’s goals.
2. Strategic communication will use the goals and culture of the organisation, align consistency with brand values as reference points to create strategies that deliver authentic messaging.
3. Communication specialists use consistent and cohesive messages across all channels of communication that build trust and relationships with staff, customers and stakeholders, fundamental to successful communication plans.
4. Communication professionals, adept in systems thinking seek to align messages with how the organisation conducts its business, seeking to grow the entire business with a view to the short, medium and long term (Mahoney 2017).
5. Advocacy is an important role of the communication professional. The achievement of business strategic directions happens with the support of key stakeholders, regulatory bodies, staff and customers. Advocacy may be referred to as lobbying in the context of government. In the corporate world communication’s role of advocacy is known as corporate affairs or corporate communication. Much work is done by corporate affairs departments behind the scenes in investigating and meeting with stakeholders, reporting back to leadership that will contribute to strategic decision making.
Author unknown 2013, Absolutely Fabulous PR S03E04, YouTube video, viewed 20 August 2018 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZJL9B0J2oI>.
Kotler, P and Keller, KL, (2016), Marketing Management, Global Edition (6e), Pearson Education Limited – Chapter 1
Mahoney, J. 2017. Chapter 10 Communicating the things we do, Strategic communication: Campaign planning (Second ed.). South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: Oxford University Press. pp.163-177
Moser, s 2014, ‘From The Social Shake-Up: The Marketing vs. Communications Debate’ Social Media Today, 24 September 2014, viewed 20 Aug 2018, <https://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/social-shake-marketing-vs-communications-debate>.
Tankard J 2001, ‘The empirical approach to the study of media framing’, In Reese S, Gandy O, Grant, A (eds) Framing public life, Routledge, NY, pp. 95-105