How organisations can make corporate communications work

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Ideas & Debate

How organisations can make corporate communications work


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Summary

  • You can keep on shouting until the cows come home, but if you do not treat communications as a strategic cog of your business, you will keep on battling perception issues about your brand or organisation.
  • Now, reality is that in most organisations, the public sector included, the corporate communication function has never been taken seriously, and is mostly treated as an afterthought, nay, an appendage of the marketing or advertising department.
  • In some organisations, communication is part of the human resource or legal departments, and as such does not have its own budget and clear mandate.

Like many Kenyans, I keenly followed the interviews by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on the selection of the Kenya’s next Chief Justice. The interviews offered a rare glimpse of what people go through when seeking employment.

One issue that consistently cropped up was the role of communication, or lack of it, in positioning and endearing the Judiciary to its critical stakeholders who interact with the justice delivery system on a daily basis.

How would the candidates implement the existing communication strategy to address issues of perception about the Judiciary and secure support from the stakeholders who interact with the justice system?

There was an underlying — almost condescending — undertone from the interviewees that either the Judiciary did not have an effective communication strategy, or the people tasked with implementing the strategy do not have the requisite gravitas needed to deliver.

One of the interviewees said that he had seen a few ladies in the communications department while another opined that the solution lay in employing people with a legal background like lawyers in the department to help interpret complex legal issues. The overall response was that the department was underwhelming in its performance.

In the many years I have worked in mainstream media and in corporate communication departments, I have come to learn, and to carry with me one important maxim: If you want to reap the full benefits of communication, you must make it a strategic function of the organisation.

You can keep on shouting until the cows come home, but if you do not treat communications as a strategic cog of your business, you will keep on battling perception issues about your brand or organisation.

Now, reality is that in most organisations, the public sector included, the corporate communication function has never been taken seriously, and is mostly treated as an afterthought, nay, an appendage of the marketing or advertising department. In some organisations, communication is part of the human resource or legal departments, and as such does not have its own budget and clear mandate.

And without appearing condescending, there are many organisations where staff without an iota of media and communication expertise have been placed to be in charge of communication.

The implication is that one doesn’t require specialised knowledge or training to be drive communications, and this has had the effect of demoralising the professionals and relegating them to non-strategic roles.

In some institutions, the usefulness of communication staff is only seen during a crisis situation or company events, when they are deployed to deal with watu wa magazeti (newspaper people), or to distribute the ubiquitous (and most often poorly crafted) press release and branded company merchandise.

In other words, the department is more often than not seen as operational, as opposed to a strategic one.

The notion that staff in the communication department are flower girls and boys who cannot offer strategic advice to the organisations they work for should be disabused once and for all.

Institutions should realise that strategic communication is not media relations, it is not crisis communications, it is not events management, et al, but a strategic management function that has a big bearing on the overall strategy and reputation of the organisation.

Enlightened and progressive organisation have realised this and have made communication a key and strategic function of their business.

In such organisations, the head of communications reports directly to the CEO of the company, and sits in the Exco (Executive Council) where strategic business decisions of the organisation are made and deliberated upon.

He or she is called upon to offer strategic communication counsel and intelligence to the organisation to support its overall objective, therefore adding value to the business.

I have no doubt that the Judiciary has a fully-fledged and functional corporate communications department. And it does not matter if the department is manned by experienced communicators, lawyers or people with a legal background.

The bottom line is, if the Judiciary does not see communication as a strategic department of the institution, it will not give it the tools and resources needed to enable it carry out its mandate effectively. And instead of realising the full benefits of the communications team, the leadership will keep on fire fighting and blaming them for perceived shortcomings.

It is also instructive to note that communications can only be effective if it is supported by good corporate policies. Thus, strategic communications should not be seen only as a means of selling the message and building good media relations, but rather as a strategy for engaging the various stakeholders and building a better relationship with them.

And finally, institutions should stop appointing green horns to man the communications department, but should rather look for people with courage, vision, communication skills and analytical capabilities to drive the function.

Muriuki is a strategic communications consultant with Valorem Consulting

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