Ten years of in-house communications – highlights

CSR has become an expected responsibility that’s embedded into the business practices of organisations and on the agenda of boards and CEOS.

“Ten years ago, you set up CSR as a unit to lobby your own organisation internally. Now, it’s much more about capability and profile visibility of issues and activities, with the actual delivery happening within the organisation in core roles.” Alex Cole, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Bupa


 

The advent of 24/7 media, the implosion of social media (twitter, Instagram, yammer, WeChat, WhatsApp and facebook –  which barely existed ten years ago (launched in 2004)!) makes everyone a commentator. That makes corporate reputation a valuable asset that must be safeguarded like any other asset. This  puts the in-house communicator centre stage within organisations.

“A transformation in the way reputation management is perceived and understood is by far the most important change in corporate comms in the past decade”

Charlotte Lambkin, Corporate Relations Director, DIAGEO


 

Ten years ago, in-house communicators could not have imagined that responsibility for social media would be part of their remit. Today 83% have that responsibility ranging from managing selected platforms like Twitter accounts to the full gamut of tools alongside the corporate website. This has led to the need for a much more integrated approach to both internal and external communication.


 

IC and employee engagement, for so long the responsibility of human resources, are increasingly coming under the in-house communicator’s umbrella.


 

In the main, in-house teams use agencies for their creativity (67%) and experience (58%). Working in house can be isolating and many practitioners believe agencies are useful for their insight into how competitors are viewed or how similar challenges have been tacked elsewhere.


 

“As a communications person, you tend to get drawn into a process or something that may involve an announcement much earlier in the day than you used to”

John Godfrey, group communications director, Legal & General


 

While the communicator’s role has changed dramatically budgets have not kept pace. Just 44% of in-house communicators have seen an increase in their budgets over the past three years and almost 32% have experienced a cut. These days there is a clear need to do more with less. Greater impact, quickly, while still balancing the budget. This is particularly true in the public sector. Often communications functions are seen as the low hanging fruit- cut by the executive boards without anyone appreciating the added value a diverse and well-staffed comms team can bring. Private sector teams are also fearful and believe that comms must have a seat at the management table where it can prove its value to the rest of the business.


 

Of 400 PR professionals surveyed by CorpComms magazine

59% said that the role of in-house communicator has changed significantly in the past decade.

85% said social media has had the greatest image

67% cited the rise of 24/7 media

52% said the growing importance of an internal stakeholder audience had impacted their role.

 


 

The CorpComms survey revealed that, as the in-house comms function has increased in importance, it is becoming part of the Chief Execs network – a huge shift from being part of the marketing function. Ten years ago, more than 41% of directors of communications reported to marketing directors; today that number is 6%. 65% now report directly to the Chi3ef Exec. Compared to 15% ten years ago. That’s a benefit in terms of hooking into the corporate strategy but with reporting lines quite often direct into the chief exec. With that responsibility comes the need to demonstrate ROI.


 

Digital communications have made it much easier for a CEO to communicate with everybody in the company by blogging, videoing, Q&A by hosting channels on the company interact


 

Companies now have the ability to set their own agenda and communicate directly with their stakeholders through social media making corporate affairs departments more powerful and journalists less so.


The challenge [of IC] hasn’t changed – the need to develop and execute effective communications campaigns that make a measureable different to how our audience behave.  The tools are just different and to use them effectively we need to truly understand the strategy underpinning the business.


Some people believe the lines between marketing and comms will continue to blur – comms, marketing, digital and media will become one team. But therein lies an inherent danger that everyone will think they are an expert. Comms people have to keep hold of the strategic territory to avoid random content generation that is not aligned to the company’s vision and strategic direction.


 

The proliferation of channels makes it difficult to manage them all with fewer resources. It’s important to choose the right channel for the right message and not get sucked into the ‘Shiny syndrome’ of being on all platforms – WhatsApp, Instagram, WeChat, blogs, website, Facebook, twitter etc. to no real end.


 

IC teams should focus on creating compelling content that can be exploited across a range of channels and disciplines. Maximise the power of imagery and visual content. Adopt an integrated, cohesive approach.


 

Audiences are now producers and editors and commentators as well as recipients of information. The audience is now part of the conversation, and comms teams are not just pushing information into a void.


 

The rise of accessible data makes comms more measureable but means it also has to be more impactful and meaningful