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What has modern corporate communications become?

The essence of corporate communication is a holistic view of the many pieces that form an organisation and the environments in which it operates. It constructs a picture of people, their interests, and the issues that create a connection with the organisation.

This complex scene presents an ever-changing pattern of activity composed of internal and external ‘sayings, doings, and relatings’1. Engaging with this kaleidoscope requires communicative practices that may be undertaken within organisations (individuals, teams, functions) and/or by consultancies, agencies, and independent practitioners.

Orchestrating the components of corporate communication requires an integrated approach. An interdisciplinary understanding of an entire body (corpus) and framework of practices, however, they may be arranged and activated.

In 1996, James Hutton modelled relationships between marketing and PR with a relatively simple Venn diagram2. Today a much more complicated mandala style of geometric design is needed to accommodate all the practice areas that fall within the function of corporate communication.

As well as structuring and directing activities of various specialist areas, corporate communication is positioned as a strategic management function, operating as a trusted advisor to organisation leaders. Its significance ‘transcends’ specialities and their boundaries ‘to harness the strategic interests of the organisation at large’, as argued in Joep Cornelissen’s popular book: Corporate Communication: A guide to theory & practice – the 7th edition of which is published by SAGE in November 20234.

Cornelissen highlights the ‘critical’ importance of protecting reputation as ‘the core task of corporate communication practitioners’, placing emphasis on ‘communication-related management problems’ in order ‘to identify opportunities for communicating and engaging with stakeholders’.

Which brings us back to ‘relatings’ as a ‘multi-layered sense of interconnections’2 or diversity of relationships. In particular, let’s think about what this means for relating politics, public affairs (PA), and activism to corporate communication.

Relating politics, public affairs (PA), and activism to corporate communication5

Politics

In democracies, politics is a means of reconciling disputes between sections of society with different interests and values. Communication helps support relationship-building in complex political systems.

Political activities are undertaken by entities involved in decision-making concerning the governance of a society by use of policies, laws, regulations, norms, communication, and behaviour.

Public Affairs

PA is employed to represent specific interests regarding relevant issues within a political system. It functions through building relationships, conveying information, sharing opinions, and contributing to decision-making.

Activism

Alongside public institutions aligned to those with authority to govern, politics includes civil society comprised of non-governmental institutions such as pressure groups, businesses, trade unions, charities, and media that provide linkages between individuals and the state.

A healthy civil society creates freedom for citizens, interest groups, and organisations to participate in political activities through open communication concerning issues of public, private, altruistic, and partisan interest.

© Heather Yaxley, Applause Consultancy

Politics, PA, and activism operate within political systems that are increasingly complex, dynamic, and uncertain. These systems shape and are shaped by the paradoxical and fractured world that organisations – and their strategic corporate communication advisors – are faced with navigating.

Politics, PA, and activism address policy issues affecting hyperlocal communities across geopolitical landscapes. This includes monitoring communication by, to, and about politicians and other political actors. It involves political science research, analysis of the strategic relevance of policy issues, and populating maps of interests and interconnections to assess ‘relatings’ (such as commonalities and/or differences). Such insights make a valuable contribution towards development of organisational strategy.

Where corporate communications places emphasis on the organisation’s interests, the role of PA is to inform and orientate these intentions with reference to political and activist concerns. This PA perspective adds depth of knowledge, competency, capabilities, and capacity to the holistic view provided by corporate communication’s breadth of vision.

Yet relating PA to corporate communication is about more than a supply-based transaction. In rapidly changing environments it offers the transformative potential to support organisational leaders who need to resolve complex organisational and socio-political issues.

This includes leaders of corporate communications for whom a professional disposition for public affairs practice is fundamental for advising how an organisation should best interact with, adapt to, and be influenced by internal and external environments.

The increasing dominance of political forces, interests and issues which matter to all types of stakeholders calls for an authentic way of being that needs to be central to all aspects of an organisation’s sayings, doings, and relatings.

Hence politics, public affairs, and activism relate to corporate communication at each pivotal point of the mandala design to facilitate the organisation’s engagement across an ever-changing kaleidoscope of people, interests, and issues.

Sources referenced:

  1. Kemmis, S., Wilkinson, J., Edwards-Groves, C., Hardy, I., Grootenboer, P. & Bristol, L. 2014. Changing practices, changing education. Springer.
  2. Hutton, J.G. 1996. Integrated marketing communications and the evolution of marketing thought. Journal of Business Research. 37(3). 155-162.
  3. Cornelissen, J. 2023. Corporate communication: A guide to theory & practice. 7th Edn. Sage.
  4. Birke, L. & Hockenhull, J. 2012. On investigating human-animal bonds: Realities, relating, research. In: L. Birke, & J. Hockenhull, J. (Eds). Crossing boundaries: Investigating human-animal relationships. Koninklijke Brill. 15-36.
  5. Bowman, S. & Yaxley, H. To be published in 2024. Public affairs management: A guide to professional practice. Routledge.

Written by Heather Yaxley, regular PRmoment columnist and managing consultant at Applause Consultancy

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