Check the attitude at the door: the responsibility of comms pros in business units

When it comes to communicators in business units and their relationship to "Corporate," too often the interaction is passive, at best, or dysfunctional, at worst.

When it comes to communicators in business units and their relationship to “Corporate,” too often the interaction is passive, at best, or dysfunctional, at worst.

My previous column focused on the role of “Corporate” in corporate communications. In sum, my view is that Corporate serves the business interests of the organization and much of its authority is earned, regardless of reporting structures.

I'd now like to look at things from the business unit communicators' perspective and how they can maximize their impact.

Some corporate cultures prize the sales-and-marketing, revenue-generating nature of a business unit and frequently see corporate priorities as fuzzy: long-term, minimal bottom-line accountability and sometimes just doing what the CEO wants.

This is not right. To paraphrase the old adage, “Give as good as you get,” the mantra in business unit communications ought to be, “You get as good as you give.”

What does that mean? The opportunity for corporate to add real value comes from things such as facilitating knowledge-sharing of best practices across the enterprise; being a source of collaborative innovation; and providing seed funding for initiatives that are a bit longer-term in nature.

The capacity for Corporate to do these things – which are 100% in the interests of every business unit communicator – is directly related to the intimacy of the Corporate-business unit relationship.

As such, business unit communicators should regularly reach out to their corporate counterparts to make them aware of activity and enlist their support when appropriate.

Furthermore, there are some things to consider when evaluating the wisdom of Corporate outreach:

• Is your function world class? If so, great. If not, tap into Corporate to help identify world-class performances in other areas of the company or through external benchmarking. Corporate communicators often have access to outside research from sources like the Communications Executive Council.

• Is your business leveraging the benefits of scale the larger enterprise can offer? For example, are you advocating big ideas that require collaboration across business units because those ideas will have a bigger, greater impact on your own business? Do you negotiate agency fees collectively? How do you handle digital listening? Do you evaluate sponsorship opportunities that, without the participation of other business units, may not be otherwise practical or affordable?

• Are you developing relationships across the enterprise for your own career development? Remember, while your culture may seem to prize a short-term focus on business results, your CEO inevitably wants a team of well-seasoned executives with experience in different divisions and different geographies. That happens as much due to cultivated relationships as anything. Make time to make those happen.

• Are you partnering with Corporate on issues tracking and management? You should because if other business units were having external problems you surely would want Corporate involved in order to potentially help isolate the issue and protect the larger corporate brand. 

• Do you want to test or incubate new ideas that aren't getting funded at your business-unit level? If the idea has applicability to more than one business unit, this may be an opportunity to partner with Corporate to get seed funding. Corporate always wants to find ways to add value to the businesses; this is often a great option.

Bottom line: the value and productivity of the Corporate-business unit relationship is what you make of it. Business unit communicators who minimize the value of Corporate inevitably behave in ways that make that perception self-fulfilling. Those who want to grow, be better at their jobs, and build strong careers tend to reach out, have a bias toward inclusion, and, in the end, are the long-term winners.

Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a digital and management consulting firm. He can be reached at bfeldman@pulsepointgroup.com. His column focuses on management of the corporate communications function.

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