Danny Rogers: Corporate comms needs to engage staff

An illuminating seminar last week, convened by Reputation Inc. in London, revealed much about the role of today's corporate comms director

As Chatham House rules applied, I cannot reveal the identity or affiliation of participants, but there were a dozen blue chip comms directors present, discussing vigorously the changing skills required.

One key theme was the pressing need to integrate more closely with HR, a subject analysed in last week's PRWeek (Focus, 18 February).

There is a growing acceptance that HR is critical in terms of effecting reputation change. Yet there is still major distrust between the disciplines. Comms tends to view HR as a peripheral, process-driven function, and yet CEOs take increasing interest in HR as they struggle to hire, retain and motivate the best talent.

As one speaker pointed out, corporate reputation defines the talent a firm is able to attract. Conversely, the HR function can be crucial in getting key executives to take responsibility for corporate reputation.

Hence one speaker advised comms executives to spend less time on externally focused activities - bringing the outside world in - and more on internal comms to improve overall reputation - taking the internal culture outwards.

Firms vary in their structural approach to this conundrum. Some have HR reporting to comms. But in other larger firms, internal comms falls under human resources owing to its better penetration within the frontline culture. But it still works closely with corporate comms to achieve the same reputational ends.

Indeed, the joining up of various functions emerged as one of the biggest challenges to modern corporate comms. We can all think of recent crises, such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, where the firm in question appeared to have no cohesive strategy. Although there is often an admirable-looking structure, the key executives affecting reputation are rarely convened.

Even more importantly, they are rarely required to take joint responsibility. The answer could be to regularly hold an executive committee on 'business environment management'. Firms that achieve this are able to establish reputation within the DNA of the business. Again we can all think of good examples.

To achieve this holy grail there is a general acceptance that corporate comms executives need much better training and development to provide stronger capability in these complex areas. And, ultimately, more gravitas within their organisations.danny.rogers@haymarket.com

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