Leaders have responsibility to change

The communications industry exists in a state of constant change and evolution, and that's probably never been truer than it is today. Powerful changes in how media is created and perceived are shifting and shaping the communications landscape.

The communications industry exists in a state of constant change and evolution, and that's probably never been truer than it is today. Powerful changes in how media is created and perceived are shifting and shaping the communications landscape.

Primary among these is the digital revolution. New media, including blogs, podcasts, and wikis, has proliferated and democratized access to information and the production of information. More than a billion people have Internet access, and by the end of this year, it is expected that 1 billion people will own camera phones. That's 1 billion potential photojournalists watching what we do in society and deciding whether we're doing it right.

Consequently, transparency has become vital to our business. Technology enables it, and consumers, interest groups, and regulatory and legislative bodies demand it. Segmentation is a thing of the past. Today, we're speaking to a wide audience of globally integrated constituencies.

We also need to consider that we've evolved to an integrated, global economy. Companies are making the transition from hierarchical business models to horizontal ones, and the good ones (and good communications teams) have adapted a globally integrated approach with shared resources, centers of excellence, and other efficiencies.

With these changes in mind, how can the communications function continue to deliver value, drive organizational change, and support corporate objectives?

One way to see where we're going is to look back at the road we've traveled. Communications has evolved from a 1980s model focused on disciplines like press relations, speech writing, and employee communications, to a 21st century model that merges these disciplines into one strategic practice: influencer relations.

Through influencer relations, it's not enough to get analysts, educators, investors, customers, economists, regulators, and lawmakers to change their perceptions of us. We have to alter their behavior, one step at a time. When we do, we will have captured the new holy grail of professional communicators: behavioral impact.

We can achieve this with employees by continuing to drive cultural transformation and ensuring that our communications foster a competitive culture. That means engaging with employees and helping them understand the business and overall industry environment.

We must continue transforming activities related to sales force communications. We're no longer just helping the sales force reach customers; we're also developing programs in which we engage customers. We must be viewed as an important contributor to a new product or service that the sales force is trying to sell to our customers.

Leadership necessitates change, which means it's never easy. The good news is that more than ever, our strategic role is appreciated at new levels by executive management. A recent Arthur W. Page Society CEO survey told us as much when it found that today's CEOs expect communications to be a strategic asset and critical link between diverse constituencies and the corporate vision, values, and brand.

That's a significant responsibility, one we should embrace. By remaining flexible, educating ourselves and our people, and charting a course through this exciting landscape, it's also a goal we can achieve.

Harvey Greisman is SVP, worldwide communications, MasterCard Worldwide.

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