‘Corporate communications’ is an amorphous and all-encompassing term. It could mean just about any type of communicating that goes on within a corporate setting.
(We’ll also assume one doesn’t literally have to work at a corporation to be a corporate communicator.)
And in practice that’s usually the case. Some corporate communicators handle only employee-related topics, such as benefits, training, or other HR areas. Some are focused on external audiences and serve in a public relations role. And still, others manage a little of both, such as those who develop content around Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or community partnerships and volunteering. People in these roles often address audiences inside and outside the company.
The question, then, is where should corporate communications sit in an organization?
Keys to Making Corporate Communications Work
I’ve worked for a number of firms, big and small, and I’ve seen corporate communicators reside in just about every department you could think of. Marketing, Human Resources, Philanthropy, Office of the President, and within operational business lines themselves. While some of those homes make more sense than others, there’s no reason why any one of them can’t work effectively. But it depends on three things:
- Organization dynamics
Every enterprise is different. How its organizational structure has evolved into its present form was influenced by a wide array of factors and forces over time — age, size, industry, rate of growth, key leaders, etc. Corporate communicators should be most closely aligned with the department or teams that will champion their work as the voice of the company. If corporate communicators lack the full support of your senior-most decision makers, they’re already set up to fail.
The reason it’s hard to say any one place is the absolute best fit for your firm’s communicators is because the right people can make it work no matter where they sit. So much rests on the personalities involved. And because corp comms staffs are usually quite lean (often just a single person), the ability of those few folks to work productively and collaboratively with the people they serve — marketing, HR, product — can largely determine the success of your corporate communications function. You need the right people on both sides of the equation.
Yes, I know, it sounds redundant. Communicators communicating. But like the cobbler’s children who don’t have any shoes, sometimes the people we pay to communicate don’t do the best job of sharing information themselves. It should go without saying that for corporate comms staff to succeed, regardless of organization dynamics and in spite of the people involved, they absolutely must keep the information flowing. They must maintain open and constant lines of communication with all their constituents. And I don’t mean just in terms of professional work product — whether it’s a newsletter, email, presentation or press release — but rather keeping their clients in the loop about where projects stand. How they’re helping. What questions they have. When they’ll deliver.
Put It All Together
Corporate communications is a ‘shared service’ and one that, like Human Resources, serves many masters. Corporate communicators need to be many things to many people. Believe me, we’ve got a whole closet full of hats. There’s no such thing as a totally frictionless enterprise either. But wherever your corporate comms function sits, make sure that place makes sense for how your organization is built. Make sure you have the right people working together. And make sure you’re all talking to one another.