“What is corporate communication?” by Maria L. Balmaceda (May 7, 2012)

SUITS THE C-SUITE By Maria L. Balmaceda
Business World (05/07/2012; Page S1-6)

My introduction to corporate communication took place 21 years ago when I returned to the country and accepted a job in a company that pioneered in data encoding and medical transcriptions.

It was engaged in what we now know as business processing outsourcing (BPO) but back then, BPO was a term yet to be coined. I was hired as corporate communication manager and when I asked the president what my duties were, he told me that I should know better. At that time, the field of corporate communication was newly minted and I was left to my wits to help shape it for the company, and for my career.

Communication is a catchall word that encompasses just about every human activity. Within the company setting, it is a much-abused concept — its breakdown can cause many a misunderstanding or boardroom battle; but managing it competently can result in growth and profit.

So what exactly is corporate communication?

It is a mixed bag of functions. To illustrate simply, I have been invariably referred to as the PR girl, marketing director, event organizer, speech writer, publisher, editor and wordsmith. Corporate communication has been loosely aligned with public relations (PR), organizational communication, and marketing communication. Actually, it is the confluence of these disciplines that defines corporate communication.

PR leans heavily on image building, primarily via positive messages, to create a reputation that is accepted and supported by a company’s stakeholders and the public at large. Organizational communication, which in some companies resides in the human resources function, is more behavioral in its approach and studies specific aspects of communication such as its flow, contents and effects within the company. Marketing communication, on the other hand, uses various media to send messages with the aim of selling a product, service or idea. With these definitions, one can see why corporate communication can be lumped with any or all of them.

Corporate communication draws from these three disciplines, and a corporate communication professional is indeed a well-rounded general practitioner. After all, corporate communication is all about managing messages and perceptions though: (1) effective use and timely dissemination of information to the proper audience using appropriate media; (2) maintaining strong relationships with stakeholders and publics; and (3) managing a positive corporate image.

To achieve all this, corporate communication is involved in almost all the internal and external communication needs of a company; to name a few: publications (traditional and electronic), employee relations, media relations, investor relations, events, crisis management, brand management, corporate social responsibility, training and other special projects. The list is far from exhaustive and as new technology emerges, it can even become longer and can require special skills.

But despite the swift changes in communication technology, I have observed in the past several years two truths about communication that remain constant: (1) the dynamism of communication; and (2) the strength of the written word. The two, of course, are entwined.

First, communication is dynamic because it is an ongoing process. This is the basic lesson I learned from my very first communication class in college and I have applied it in all communication situations ever since. Every communication activity has a sender (or source) and a receiver (or audience) of a message that is transmitted through a channel (or medium). This message usually elicits a reaction (or feedback) from the receiver. Keeping in mind these five components — sender, message, channel, receiver, and feedback — can greatly help leadership focus on its communication goals. It will be even more beneficial if the organization has determined, articulated and practiced its corporate philosophy and values in which all messages are anchored for consistency.

This cyclical nature of the communication process is its very heartbeat, if you will; it is what keeps communication alive and fluid. Corporate communication practitioners are aware of this, and are aware, too, that because of this energy and because it is primarily a human activity, communication can also be flawed; it can break down. The good news is that we can fall but we can also rise again; we pick up the pieces, learn from our failures and then start over.

Second, one can never underestimate the potency of the written word. Obviously, the spoken word can also be powerful but in most likelihood, it will be eventually transcribed for posterity. Think of the Bible, the Magna Carta, war treaties and landmark speeches throughout civilization that still impact on our 21st century lives.

Today, we have social networks that are more visual but still require some form of written expression. When messages on these sites go viral, then we know that the source was able to communicate some form of message. This is why it is very important for companies to be mindful of written statements that are released and circulated to its audiences. Messages need to be crafted with the aim of being understood in the way they are meant to be understood; otherwise, we experience a breakdown that can lead to misinterpretations, gossip or even a full-blown crisis that will require intervention and expense.

English is still the language of business. Having a firm grasp of the language is clearly advantageous. Sadly, we meet far too many college graduates with inadequate skills in written and spoken English. When I conduct business writing or even basic grammar review courses, I am very disappointed with the results. I am mortified when I receive e-mail memos written like text messages! If a person is not bent on consciously improving his or her communication skills, then it would be very difficult for that person to unlearn being ungrammatical. Words are the building blocks of corporate communication and a practitioner should be able to harness their power and influence.

In sum, corporate communication is an evolving field but it is gaining recognition for its strategic use in organizations. As a management function, it aims to unify and integrate the different communication activities within the company. As a communication tool, it links the different parts of the organization and helps leadership make the right decisions.

Maria L. Balmaceda is Senior Director for Marketing and Communications of SGV & Co.

This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinion expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.