What is corporate communication and how can you get it right?

by Matt Bochenski

In the new work-from-anywhere world, good corporate communication can bring employees together wherever they are. Here’s how to get it right.

Excellent corporate communication can be the glue that connects every employee in your business - from the HQ to the frontline and those working remotely. It’s also an essential way to help share your mission, values, and culture inside your business and out in the market. But before you master corporate comms, first you need to understand it.

What is corporate communication?

Any communication your organization creates and distributes related to the business, your goals, values and policies will fall under the corporate comms umbrella. The first thing to note is that it doesn’t just include the messages you send - when you share your corporate social responsibility policy or remind people what your organization stands for. It also involves how you respond to incoming communications. And it encompasses your corporate brand identity and your corporate tone of voice – the way your organization sounds.

For global organizations with many different locations, through to companies where employees work solely or mainly from home, corporate communication is a way to unite people.

The audiences for corporate communication can include:

  • current employees
  • future employees
  • customers
  • suppliers
  • the press
  • investors
  • board members and shareholders

We can divide corporate communication into two broad categories: internal and external. Traditionally, external corporate communication was the remit of a PR department, and internal communication belonged to HR. But things are changing. Increasingly, effective corporate communication needs to sit across and be present in all aspects of the business.

Even if your company doesn’t attach much value to corporate comms, all organizations are constantly sending messages about themselves internally and externally. Corporate communication is a way of formalizing this and being strategic about it. Despite its importance and value, a recent report highlights that >60% of organizations have no internal comms strategy.

Why is corporate communication important?

Most people agree that corporate comms have value. An overwhelming 99% of c-suite executives say internal communication was important, according to a survey by Hanover Communications and Censuswide. But why does it matter so much?

Organizations are talking all the time. They're sharing their business mission. They're talking about their company values. And they do so explicitly and implicitly across many different formats - from annual reports and press releases down to the presentation style of your spokespeople at external conferences and webinars.

This has implications. These types of corporate communication can affect and influence critical elements like your brand reputation. So, if they’re working well, they can help increase brand awareness, brand love and customer loyalty. And if they’re not, you might have a problem. Corporate communication extends to your customer service language and approach, too. So teams looking after your phone lines, email service, and social media customer service channels need to be part of developing and executing your corporate communication strategy.

Effective corporate communication is vital in times of crisis as it helps with brand perception and protection. Forty-three percent of decision-makers surveyed by Censuswide said, “one of the most important things businesses need to do to get through the difficulties posed by COVID-19 is ensuring that communication with employees is as clear as possible.”

But organizations that do it well use proactive corporate communication throughout the year, not just in an emergency. So if they encounter a crisis, onlookers won't see their response as a one-off but as part of a consistent framework.

Internal corporate communication

Internal comms is just one element of more comprehensive corporate communication. Traditionally, this type of input includes company updates, training, internal newsletters, intranets, and so on. Contemporary internal communication now includes additional channels and formats, like live chat, integrated social channels, webinars and video streaming.

Why? Because employees want their companies to talk to them. Seventy-four percent of workers say they feel like they’re missing out on company news, for example.‏1‏ But internal comms should be a two-way street. Not only should it keep people connected, but it should also give them a voice. Here are some of the things internal comms can do if you get them right.

Connecting frontline and deskless workers

Communicating with all employees is important. But staying in touch with frontline staff is essential. And there are some encouraging signs that organizations are improving their internal communication with frontline staff in response to COVID-19. Findings from our new Deskless Not Voiceless 2020 Report show the percentage of frontline managers who believe there’s a communication gap has reduced from 60% to 25% since our last report. But overall, frontline and HQ employees remain fundamentally disconnected.

It’s a disconnect that manifests itself in several ways. First, people are using different tools to talk to each other. Ninety percent of HQ managers used email to communicate during lockdown when barely a quarter of their frontline counterparts did the same. Instead, over half of frontline managers resorted to messaging apps on their own devices. That could be a problem. IT teams have less control over the technology, and corporate comms teams have little or no control over the message.

Building engagement

Internal comms helps people feel connected to your organization and to your goals and business values. Good internal comms can help increase employee engagement and loyalty to the company. And when that happens, opportunities for conflict can reduce, leaving room for more effective teamwork. Plus, with many more employees working remotely, internal communication is even more critical for building trust.

Conveying culture

High performing teams and organizations can use internal communication to build, convey and maintain company culture. This is particularly important in the age of hybrid working, where culture isn’t something that people can feel at permanent or physical locations. It's something that teams also need to create and maintain virtually.

Communicating change

In times of change – an office move, a company restructure or an emergency like COVID-19 – employees will likely have lots of questions. They may also have anxieties about what the future will bring. Effective, transparent communication can address questions before they arise, clarify situations and reassure.

Working as a testing ground

Where possible, organizations should aim to communicate messages internally before they publish elsewhere. That way, you can gauge reactions and tweak your comms if necessary.

How to improve corporate communication skills

There are a few principles that underlie good corporate communication:

  • keep two-way lines of communication open
  • make leaders visible and relatable
  • make sure all voices across the organization are heard, including deskless workers
  • be committed to breaking down hierarchies
  • share information freely and readily
  • encourage open dialogue
  • lead by example
  • be open to taking risks and making mistakes

You can also:

Introduce guidelines

All your comms – internal and external – need to contain a kernel of your company culture. But when you have multiple content creators in the team, often across locations, languages and time zones, it can be difficult to get consistency. Having a set of comms guidelines, best-practice formats and real brand examples can help.

Break down silos

Business silos can be a barrier to communication. It isn’t easy to build and share a narrative if the press team is separate from the compliance team (who are separate from the HR team). Understanding your organizational structure and insisting on regular cross-team collaboration is vital – and this is where the right tools and platforms can be invaluable. Look for solutions that help people communicate openly across teams or departments, enabling teams to collaborate on comms documents in real-time.

Brush up on interpersonal skills

For people working in corporate communication, personal communication skills are critical. If you identify any gaps in this area, you might want to consider some individual or team-wide training.

Lear more about effective multi-discplinary collaboration.

Corporate communication policies

Having policies for both internal and external communication can help organizations set standards and expectations. Teams with representation from all levels and areas of the business should draw up your policies and procedures. And once you publish them on your intranet or knowledge library, it’s worth allocating regular times to review and update them.

An external communication policy aims to set out who is authorized to communicate with the public – day-to-day and in times of crisis. The policy should also show these employees how to communicate. With this in place, there’s less risk of harm to brand reputation caused by communication that isn’t on-message and on-tone.

Corporate communication strategy best practices

The most effective corporate communication strategies:

  • set clear goals
  • identify metrics for measurement
  • use results to improve and evolve

For maximum efficiency, your corporate communication teams need a seat at the table and shouldn’t be too separate from the organization's heads. It’s vital to have consistency between the messaging sent by the CEO, PR and HR teams, for example. It’s also crucial that you’re able to deal consistently with incoming messages from staff members and customers.

To maintain effective corporate communication over time, carry out regular reviews. A routine audit of all your corporate comms can help uncover any inconsistencies or overlaps and spot any upcoming risks. It can minimize challenges caused by working in silos. And it can also help you decide, based on engagement levels, which channels are most appropriate for your audiences, and eliminate channels that are no longer working. You might decide to decommission the company newsletter and introduce an app instead, for example.

Corporate communication directly impacts employee engagement and is vital for helping your teams feel connected – to each other, the company culture and the organization’s leaders. With increased employee engagement, your organization can see a boost in productivity and success, ensuring people feel connected and engaged wherever and however they work.

Learn more about corporate communication and frontline workers. Download Deskless Not Voiceless 2020 to get the full picture from our in-depth frontline research report with over 9,000 people in eight countries worldwide.

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