Organisations are increasingly expected to speak up, promote values – whether social, environmental or even political – and take a stand over any number of issues outside of their immediate operating environment. But to what extent should an organisation actively become involved in social and political issues? Can engaging with activists, promoting values and stopping the spin result in a competitive advantage? How should communicators enable this dialogue with sensitivity – and where does all this leave the ethical ideals of the corporate communicator and public relations professional?
Communication Director is published quarterly: the magazine's Issue Focus explores a different communications topic each issue from a variety of perspectives. In addition, Communication Director features a range of articles that cover the full spectrum of the communications and public affairs portfolio, from digital to B2B, crisis communications to HR. Other regular features include Questions To, a short Q&A with one of Europe's communication directors, Communications Reader, a selection of book reviews and previews, an in-depth Interview with a leading figure from the field of communications, and news about the latest activities of the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD)
The European Parliament elections in May 2019 could significantly alter the face of Europe, so this issue of Communication Director looks to the stars and ponders the future of Europe and the Union. We look at the current landscape of work, trade, living conditions and even crime levels – all determining factors behind voting patterns – and ask how EU institutions can join forces with politicians, civil society, corporate and businesses leaders to tell a story that resonates with citizens of all political persuasions.
Trust – whether winning it, keeping it, losing it or winning it back – is an integral motivating factor in our lives and in the stories we tell each other about ourselves and about the organisations we belong to. But today, although the story arcs may stay the same, the main actors are very different. Technological innovations, social networks and big data are among the new cast members that have rebooted what we thought we knew about trust and communications, in the process raising the stakes considerably.
In October last year, The Economist described the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – the European Union’s comprehensive update of its data protection and privacy rules - as “the greatest shake up in privacy legislation for over 20 years”. Such shake up requires organisations to conduct a 360-degree analysis of the ways they handle data, and for that analysis to stand up to scrutiny and to inspire stakeholder trust, the communications function must be involved.
In a year when one executive search firm found that a majority of FTSE 100 companies have communications professionals on the executive board, it is even more urgent to define the relationship between the chief communications officer and corporate strategy. Before we do do that, we need to clear up a few definitions. What exactly is strategy? What defines the difference between strategy and tactics? Is being strategic a right or a privilege – that is, do even small, overworked communication teams have a hope of moving their work into a more strategic direction, rather than running to play catch up with social media channels, press releases and publications? These questions are explored in the Issue Focus section of this issue of Communication Director.
Contemporary anxieties about privacy, the abuse of personal information and rampant commercialisation of the public sphere sit uneasily alongside our ready acquiescence in handing over private data for access to online products and services. Nowhere is this tension better embodied than in the current ubiquity of personalised communications – from algorithms that determine your Amazon recommendations to tailored emails in B2B marketing, data has empowered companies to personalise their messages at scale. The Issue Focus section of this magazine explores the how and why of data-driven personalisation, as well as the pitfalls and ethical implications.
Open source, sharing economy, remote teams, flat hierarchies and virtual meetings: the way we work with each other has never been so fluid. With the Millennial generation touted as the most collaborative ever, and email replaced by social enterprise apps, the transformation of the workplace mirrors the more open give-and-take that is the hallmark of the sharing economy. Communication directors are, naturally, deeply invested in the future of collaboration. Whether it’s pioneering new forms of team work with internal communications, pushing for the structural changes required to set the stage for collaboration 2.0, or advancing the use of cutting-edge tools to find and share knowledge inside the organisation, communicators are finding themselves at the cutting edge of collaboration.
For many industries, fake news is not a new story; pharma and the financial sector, for example, have long been the target of biased claims or distorted facts. What is new is the technology that enables the wildfire spread of falsehoods, stories that aren’t easily distinguishable from the rest of our news feeds. This presents a real risk to companies across Europe, whatever their industry. Could the fake news model as perfected in the Trump campaign be adapted by someone maliciously wanting to take down a company? What plans do you have in place to survive an avalanche of negative stories? Does Facebook’s refusal to be seen as a publisher put European companies in an especially vulnerable position when it comes to fighting fake news? We explore how communicators can help their organisations overcome this very real threat.
Attention is the world’s most valuable currency. Constant connectedness and incessant stimuli have made us a restless audience: a recent study by Time Inc. found that ‘digital natives' subconsciously move between devices and platforms 27 times per hour. In an environment like this, attention quickly becomes the most valuable currency. Advertisers want your attention before the next YouTube video plays, friends demand your attention on snapchat and Instagram, new media tries to grab your attention with click-baiting headlines. There are also more serious ramifications: the political upheavals that have convulsed the world over the last 12 months raise serious questions about the attention economy. Are we becoming deaf to all but the loudest, most extreme arguments? Do the snap judgements encouraged by a “like/unlike” culture negate the shades of grey that are involved in any adult political argument?
To mark the 10th year of Communication Director magazine, not only are we tracing the evolution of the communications function from message distributor to strategic partner, we’re also looking at how the changes that rocked our world over the past decade – from technological innovations to political upheavals – have impacted the communicator’s job. And we’re asking: is this period of escalating change and innovation a springboard for the next stage in the evolution of the corporate communications leader’s position? 20 years ago the internet barely existed as mass phenomenon, social media is a little more than 10 years old: companies have had to adapt the way they work – and the type of skills they hire – to remain relevant. Our Issue Focus section examines the changing environment that chief communications officers find them in today: whether Pokémon Go or the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence or the millennial work place, the communications director is at the centre of multiple conversations and how he or she adapts to these will determine the future of the profession.
Examples of lost social licences abound: from Shell in the Niger Delta, BP in the Gulf of Mexico, dam building in Myanmar to the GMO debate in Europe. In this issue, we look at how digital giants like Google and Facebook struggle with legitimacy: their size and ubiquity, not to mention our fears about data security, obliges them to constantly apply for the licence to operate. Winning the social licence is harder to define: in this issue, Simone Niven shares some case studies from Rio Tinto’s work with local communities directly affected by its mining activities, including Aboriginal people in Western Australia, while Chris Ettery relates how risk mitigation was one of several approaches taken by Lafarge’s stakeholder engagement. But social licence doesn’t just belong to companies. It also applies to professions, among them communications and public relations. In an age of spin, greenwashing, and budget restraints, how do communicators stake their claim to validity, and ensure that their work is fuelled by purpose? That’s another question posed in this issue of Communication Director.
This Issue Focus section of this Communication Director talks about trust: how to earn it, lose it and win it back. We look at what the Volkswagen Emissions scandal teaches us about trust, what it takes to build trust in new markets, how the media affects dialogues around controversial subjects and what trust means to communicators from across Europe. Meanwhile, Michael Stewart, European CEO of Edelman, introduces us to the findings of the influential Edelman Trust Barometer and a philosopher helps us unravel the underlying questions behind trust, vulnerability and betrayal... honestly.
Do you pay your bills on time, clean up after your dog and make sure old papers go straight into the recycling bin? Then congratulations, you’re (probably) a model citizen. But what if “you” happen to be a corporation? What defines good behaviour when profit margins are your scale of reference? Communication leaders from companies as diverse as Vedanta, Ben & Jerry’s and Coca Cola show how their corporate citizenship measures are more than skin-deep: we also look at how corporate governance helps companies earn their license to operate, and how corporate reporting has evolved to become a key communications tool that loudly affirms the corporation’s ability to play a positive part in the local community. After all, isn’t being a good neighbour what citizenship is all about?
Stakeholder engagement means working towards trust, even (especially?) among those with different views: Left and Right, corporations and NGOs, employees and management. It means reaching out before problems arise, rather than after, it means listening as much as talking, explaining with humility rather than boasting or finger-pointing. It’s not surprising that several of the companies most invested in stakeholder engagement operate in industries that directly impact the quality of life of so many people – a fact reflected in the line-up of authors that write about their direct experiences in this issue.
There is a lot to learn from leaders: especially when considering that all of us will be called upon at some point in our lives to make hard decisions and manage a team to victory. However, the exact nature of a great leader, and the skills that make them so successful, are often harder to pin down. While easy to admire they are tougher to analyse, with leaders coming in all shapes and sizes. So to delve deeper into what makes a great leader, we present to you this new-look edition of Communication Director, set out with the hope of inspiring and helping you to hone your own leadership skills.
A little under 20 years on from the first appearance of Clayton Christensen’s landmark theory of disruptive innovation, we can safely say that we are all living in disrupted times. The frequency of game-changing developments that revolutionise our work, our industries and the way we live our lives is higher than ever before, and the differences between those who anticipate future trends and those who do not are clear to see. From the sharing economy to big data and the cloud, each day seems to bring a new challenge to the status quo. For communicators who have to navigate this volcanic landscape, these challenges offer the potential to transform the work of the communications function, and perhaps redraw the lines that define the role of the communications professional.
The implications of diversity in communications are, well… diverse. It can mean the gender pay gap, recruiting and retaining members of underrepresented groups, and ensuring that the profession’s ethnic and social makeup reflects society’s. But it also means developing other perspectives in public relations and corporate communications, to gain a more nuanced understanding of the who, what and why being communicated, of ensuring a mixed armoury of tools in the communications arsenal: these topics all fall under the “diversity” banner, and are all reflected in this issue’s Storyteller section.
In this issue, we’ve invited a selection of experts, all writing from markedly different perspectives, to share their insights into how they define the value of their work, thereby building a business case for this curious hybrid of art and science – communication management.
Social platforms, the sharing economy, augmented reality, web 3.0, the internet of things – these are more than just buzzwords, these are the signs and signifiers of a time in history where the silo walls between off- and online are being irrevocably blurred. If a significant proportion of your audience interacts with your organisation online, then you and your team really must anticipate and embrace the next digital stage. That is the idea behind the Storyteller section of this issue of Communication Director.
This issue of Communication Director takes a look at the impact of globalisation on corporate communications. How does the global scope of the profession affect the way corporate communicators and public relations professionals work, the environment in which they work, and the theories on which they base their approach to their work? It’s a fascinating subject to unpack, throwing up several different variables that force us to look at the topic from new angles.
In organisations across Europe, communication directors are inching closer to the executive board – whether or not this is a welcome development is just one the questions raised in this latest issue of Communication Director. What we’re concerned with here is the new portfolio of roles and responsibilities that define today’s communication director (or chief communication officer, or head of corporate communications or whichever nomenclature is preferred: you’ll find several in this issue). The argument goes that the role of the communication director has gained in stature because of the increasing extent to which intangible values determine the degree of business competitiveness. Whether or not this means that communication directors should have a seat at the executive table is subject to considerable debate within the profession: this issue of Communication Director presents contrasting views.
Content is a boardroom issue, according to the usual experts. For evidence, they point to websites such as HSBC’s Global Connections or GE’s GE Reports: these sites dig deep into the knowledge sources of their various businesses to present stories with mass appeal. Or they point to the kind of content produced by Nissan or Unilever, which is indistinguishable from the kind of high-end, polished news reports you would expect from an established media institution rather than a car manufacturer or consumer goods company. Somewhere in the collision between online communities’ apparently bottomless appetite for content and the collapsing structures of traditional media, a new brand of communication has emerged. Blurring the lines between corporate communications, marketing and journalism, this new phase of corporate media is one of the most exciting developments in business communications in recent years.
Today’s communication professionals are sometimes called upon to engage in work that, though legally acceptable, can often be less concretely-defined in terms of ethics.The push towards transparency and compliance rules that has taken place over the past few years means that questions of ethics are more relevant to communicators than ever before. Ethical issues are regularly encountered by professionals working in the fields of governmental relations, lobbying and public affairs, while the increasingly globalised world of business can bring certain practices into direct conflict with ethical codes. Furthermore, digital channels of communication and social media phenomena have further clouded the issue of exactly what the appropriate ethical response should be. So how do today’s communicators address the practicalities of ethics in their day-to-day work? This issue of Communication Director invites experts from the professional and academic fields to contribute their opinions on this pressing subject.
In these tough economic times, it is easy to forget that it is not just corporate communicators who have it hard, bearing the brunt of budget cuts in one direction, increasingly demanding stakeholders in another, and rule-changing technological developments in yet another direction. Spare a thought for political communicators. Not only must they face many of the same problems, they also have a few of their own to contend with as well. This issue of Communication Director takes a look at some of the challenges and opportunities in political communications today.
Organisational communication is central to organisation success; that much is clear. But the how and why is an endlessly debated field of enquiry. That is why, in the Storyteller section of this issue of Communication Director, we have invited a mixture of theorists and practitioners to share their views on the form and function of corporate communications within organisations.
Even the strongest relationships need some analysis and counselling from time to time: the partnership between in-house communicators and their counterparts in public relations agencies and consultancies are no exception to this rule, and that’s why it is the focus of this issue of Communication Director.
Authenticity means different things to different people: what’s true and real for some can ring hollow for someone else. For the purposes of this issue of Communication Director, we’ve taken authenticity to mean communicating the essentials of your organisation and remaining true to them, internally and externally, through good times and bad.
When businesses communicate with each other, the stakes are always high. The question posed by this issue is: do business-to-business communications require a whole other bag of tricks than business-to-customer? As usual, we present a selection of articles from various experts in the field, all with their own take on the subject and mixing practical experiences with the best in current thinking. We also introduce a brand new section that looks at different histories and key figures in the development of public relations; we open The Story of PR with a summing-up of the history of public relations to the present day.
The focus of this issue of Communication Director is on language and writing in corporate communication: in other words, the tools of the corporate communicator’s trade. As one of the interviewees in our opening Storyteller article puts it, “As professional communicators, we are there to write what our managers would write, if they only knew how. We’re the ones who know how to say it so the reader will get it.”
The past decade has seen frenetic merger and acquisition activity. As far back as 2003, Time magazine assured us that “the urge to merge is returning” and it is an urge that shows no sign of abating. The communication challenges seem daunting: the communicator must convince others of the benefits of the deal without stumbling under the weight of their demands... it is this range of roles running concurrently that makes communicating mergers and acquisitions such an exciting challenge, as our authors in this issue’s Storyteller section make clear.
Today, branding is serious business. Several recent high-profile rebrands have shown the importance of reminding the world just what your organisation is doing or wants to do, and the success of these hugely complicated and expensive projects rests on the strength of the organisation’s communications. Ultimately, and reassuringly, brand communications returns to one simple truth: the power of storytelling.
A departmental leader must structure her or his team as efficiently and effectively as possible, making sure that all processes run smoothly. Should the department follow a centralised or decentralised approach? How can cooperation with other departments best be organised? Who should be put in charge of which task? How should the matter of working hours and flexibility be dealt with? Questions like these frequently arise in the daily routine of those at the top of a communications department – and must be answered in order for us to gain a clear picture of the direction of the profession.
Surveys on job satisfaction will often ask questions along the lines of “Where do you see yourself in 10 year’s time?” And so, as 2010 draws to a close and we find ourselves approaching the next decade, it seems an apt occasion to look at the many different career possibilities in and around corporate communications.
Once you’ve lost your reputation, you can enjoy an uninhibited life. So says an old German proverb; one that, unfortunately, does not apply to business. Companies remain at the mercy of their reputation, a message brought home to us by the ongoing global economic crisis. In this issue, we look at how BP shows that once company’s troubles can affect the global standing of an entire industry, how sponsorship of the World Cup helped South Africa’ First National Bank develop their image both internally and to international audiences, how Adidas respond to questions over its collaboration with overseas suppliers, and the serious reputational risks inherent in social media campaigns.
For too long, internal communication has been consigned to the shadows, taking a back seat to its external corporate counterpart. The global economic and financial market crisis has inadvertently set in motion the end of this imbalance, by presenting new challenges to internal communicators and reaffirming their centrality to the success of the organisation. Given this development, internal communication is moving swiftly into the foreground. It must evolve as an integrated strategic partner, an irreplaceable part of any competitive organisation.
Whenever the world of PR stumbles upon new tools of communication, corporate professionals need to answer one fundamental question: should they seize the day and be early adopters, or bide their time in the wings, waiting to see how the new techniques evolve once the dust of hype has settled? There are sound reasons for corporations to exercise caution. In this issue’s Story Teller section, a diverse range of experts from the academic and corporate worlds guide us through the distracting white noise of hyperbole and explore the ramifications of social media on PR and corporate communications.
Perhaps now is not the best time to be a CEO. At the time of going to press, corporate leaders on both sides of the Atlantic are subject to vilification, tied to the torture rack of media-driven public opinion. And if you didn’t know any better, you might think “stepping down” is a dance craze currently all the rage amongst swingin’ CEOs. So where is the communication director in all this? As the sculptor of the chief executive’s public image, these are critical times, and a critical opportunity to put the complicated relationship between an organisation‘s leader and their head of communications under the microscope.
Although there have never been better, or as many, possibilities to inform oneself about other cultures than today, there remain stereotypes for every country and its people that seem to be ineradicable. Communication professionals who work for globally active companies can not afford to work on such a basis. To communicate successfully, they need to explore the characteristics of the local market far more profoundly. It is a dangerous mistake to automatically assume that one’s own approach to business fits all, and messages that are not tailored to local nuances will fall flat. In this issue, we take a look at cross-cultural communications.
They say change is the only constant: this past year has once more proven this to be true, with new challenges for communications professionals to face. They have to keep up with information from all around the globe while at the same time being confronted with an increasing amount of misinformation about their company or client. This new state of affairs complicates the process of communicating organisational change, a task which is hard enough at the best of times. Whenever change affects your organisation in the future, we hope that you will draw inspiration from this issue and feel better prepared to deal with it!
As Doris Day once sang, “Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be, the future’s not ours to see...” Nevertheless, this issue of Communication Director dares to imagine what corporate communications might look like in some years’ time. We have invited communication academics and corporate communicators from different parts of the world to share their visions with us, and we present their predictions for your perusal.
There’s nothing like a crisis to bring a subject into sharp relief. The current contraction of the world’s economic markets has brought into the open the countless modes of communications that underpin the market economy in which we operate. Even at the best of times, financial communications is a demanding discipline, touching on corporate communications and investor relations, annual reports and media briefings, stock analysis and legal regulations. In this issue of Communication Director, we present a line-up of different voices in the field of financial communications, touching on issues as diverse as money laundering, mergers and acquisitions, stock market flotations, annual reports and social media.
Brussels is the heart of Europe’s lobbying industry and is rife with spin, off-the-record interviews and opaque interaction between politicians and media representatives – according to cliché. It is therefore fitting that this issue uses Belgium’s capital and its EU institutions as a backdrop for a wider examination of the state of political communications today, especially in connection with corporate communications.
The relationship between journalism and public relations has always been fraught with difficulties. PR specialists fear what they believe flows out of journalists’ pens: criticism, incomplete interpretations and biased reports. Journalists, on the other hand, operate under the general impression that PR professionals do nothing but spin stories. Critical voices have become stronger, claiming that an alarmingly high percentage of stories in today’s mass media originate from public relations. Certainly this black and white analysis does not mirror reality; black and white views never do. That is why Communication Director has dedicated this issue to the relationship between PR and journalism.
At first glance it seems as if the aviation industry is the economic sector with the highest risk of being confronted with a crisis. Three of our authors have chosen to illustrate their approach to crisis communications with an example from the world of planes and passengers. Yet this presumption is certainly too limited. In today’s world, where news and information spread ever faster, any company or institution can easily be caught in the spotlight of the media and public in the fraction of a second. Though the potential causes are diverse, and some industries might be more vulnerable than others, they all have something in common: those who have never reflected on how best to react to public reproaches and criticism from the media will fail to defend their reputation.
Companies are most successful and profitable when their production flows run accurately, when the cooperation of their different departments mesh like a Swiss timepiece. Despite the fact that this cognition is widely spread, some divisions in a corporation seem to be destined to compete with each other. Over the past few decades, PR and marketing have been such competitors. Marketing, with its old corporate roots, trying to defend its territory: PR, the younger discipline, struggling for growing acceptance and relevance in its companies. But in today’s world a company’s communications challenges have become much too complex and demanding to let the two disciplines concentrate on their own redundant fights. On the contrary: of all departments, it is PR and Marketing which have to work together and cede their capacities and skills jointly.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been a powerful trend in recent years. An increasing number of European companies seem to have discovered the altruistic side of their business. They invest in charitable projects, claim that they produce their goods in a sustainable manner, implement programmes to improve the working conditions of their employees in developing countries. So far, so good. But trends have a fundamental weakness: they come and go, they are ephemeral. But long-term engagement is an indispensable prerequisite for successful and trustworthy CSR.
In the course of globalisation, a corporation’s reputation and image have massively gained importance. Nonetheless, a good image does not purely derive from record-breaking economic results: it derives from a company’s sustainable behaviour and efficient communications. Explaining the economic coherences of our time and creating a trustworthy image is a challenge which only public relations can master. Still, communications professionals still have to fight for other departments’ acceptance in their company, and are asked to prove what value their work adds to the company’s revenue.
Successful communications are not based on clever strategies alone. It is, perhaps first and foremost, a question of organisation and structure. Take the different regulations facing companies in the EU member states as an example. Price-sensitive information has to be provided simultaneously in different countries and the companies’ communications staff are required to speak with a single voice. It’s rather a question of organisation than of strategy, isn’t it?
The story of America and Europe is a tale of two siblings. Different in appearance, different in thinking and different in acting, but still siblings. And it is usual that when siblings interact, the younger learns from the older. Not so in this tale. Whenever America and Europe are compared, it is junior – the US – who is ahead of senior. In economics, culture, and politics, America dominates and sets the rules. Does this hold true for public relations as well? Is European PR merely a copy of its US-counterpart? Has it got its own identity at all? Communication Director’s first issue tries to answer these questions.