By Eric Wamanji
The post-modern corporate world operates in a complex realm characterised by explosion of communication platforms,dynamic geopolitical, and religious ideologies and a vibrant heterogeneous culture. With the emergence of the information superhighway occasioned by the World Wide Web, time and space shrunk to create a global village. This new phenomenon, coupled by the end of the Cold War, offers as many opportunities as challenges to organisations.
This era is typified by faster flow of information and easy access to multiplicity of ideas. Society is exposed to an assortment of choices and is more discerning and overly demanding of openness from organisations. Today’s stakeholder, true to the libertarian ideology, is increasingly cynical, has far more choices, and enjoys liberal power exercised at will. We are also experiencing more and more loyalty challenges as a result of the global village phenomena.
Behind this backdrop, corporate communication has become critical in affording organisations opportunities to remain focused afloat and enjoy goodwill from stakeholders. Indeed, the corporate citizen aspires to be understood, admired and respected.
So how does corporate communication support organisations’ bid to remain profitable and competitive? It is the duty of communication to construct the right images about the organisation in the stakeholders’ minds. Thus, communication helps the organisation to persuade and to influence, to explain and clarify, to negotiate and to guide, to educate and to inspire. In short corporate communication introduces the company to the world and keeps the world interested and supportive. It engenders admiration and creates goodwill ambassadors who continue to propagate the organisation’s narrative in their spheres of influence.
That is why corporates should take the art of rhetoric seriously. Corporate reputation, as intangible as it may be, is an indispensable asset constructed by smart communication. This is how the Fortune 500 companies make it – they clearly articulate their business to internal and external stakeholders. They have a systematic and vibrant corporate communication agenda.
Richard Branson of the Virgin Group for instance, idolises Will Whitehorn, his Director
for Public Relations and Communications. Branson argues, and rightly so, that he can pay the director of communications any amount of money he asks for. Why is this so? Simple. Communication can make or break a company. Branson too, is said to set aside 25 percent of his time for public relations activities. Today there is no doubt that the Virgin story is enigmatic. The construction of a corporate legend can only happen with smart communication.
We need to craft and share compelling stories about our triumphs and breakthroughs that are intriguing enough to warrant narrations. Since heroic narratives inherently fascinate mankind, it is critical then that we must be able to idealise, glorify or even ennoble our accomplishments, values, and unique attributes. Then, we need to construct a legion of third parties to propagate our corporate narratives, not through coercion but willingly having seen our sincerity and trustworthiness.
I today dare say that effective corporate communication is the missing link between innovation, hard work and success. In the corporate world we produce, dispatch, and receive certain codes or signs from members of the society. Some of these codes are sent by default; sometimes by design. Nonetheless, it is these codes that we rely upon to position our brands in the hearts and minds of stakeholders.
The brief of assigning each code its rightful position in the communication canvas calls for an intellectual wherewithal that is transcendental. The codes or texts come in form of graphics, sound, text, or other icons representing the feel and smell of our goods, the smiles and confidence of our staff, and corporate leaders. We live in a society that seeks meaning beyond the material through materialistic enterprises. How we bring meaning to our stakeholders is critical.
Through communication, we intelligently integrate our messages toward changing public opinion and public perception. And this critical and delicate input needs a strategist – placed at the management level, not a craftsman or a technician. The strategist knows how the craft is done, knows how to manage the craft, but importantly, is smart enough to tactfully combine the twain for maximum impact.
And yes, we should be cognisant to the fact that the Habermasian Public Sphere is not just domiciled within the politico-democratic realm. This public space affords the citizen discursive and commentary opportunities virtually on any aspect of life. Unfortunately, the blogosphere lacks a rational-moderating voice, making it difficult to separate myth from fact. Still, strategically utilised, social platforms offer the corporate immense opportunities. However, vigilance and surveillance is critical to stem any perversions, while tact is mandatory to orient discourses to favour the corporate.
The emergence of the Internet attracted epitaphs and eulogies from doomsayers on the conventional mass media. Pessimists were of the opinion, and even willed the press and the broadcast were dead. However, time has proved the cynics wrong. The mass media may have received a bloody blow from the Internet but it is not out. Indeed, it will be foolhardy of any technocrat to ignore the power of the most influential social institution in the world. The more the practitioner appreciates this, and knows how to engage the Fourth Estate, better still learn its parameters, the more fruitful the enterprise of corporate communication would become and thereby profits. Yes, indeed, the media, the communication realm, that is the secret to power, profits and prestige.