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Thursday, December 29, 2011

What it means to be a corporate communications professional-2

Commits alumna SUSHMA SHANKAR (Class of 2008), who works with IBM in Bangalore, explains what really happens in corporate communications and what exactly she does as a corporate communications officer:

Nothing can bring disaster more rapidly to a business and to its people than a breakdown in communications and in understanding. Thomas J Watson Sr, 1961

Almost every person to whom I have handed my business card has asked me: What do you do in IBM? I would love to proffer Wikipedia’s definition of what I do, but what you read on the internet or in text books is quite different from reality.

When I mention IBM to anybody outside the company, the first reaction I get is, “Oh, that is a nice company to work for.” Or, “I’ve heard the company has employee-friendly policies.” This has been a result of effective communications within the company and with its stakeholders. Years and years of effective brand-building have helped bring about a positive reaction and recall among people, as well as boost share value. This is what corporate communications strives to achieve.

So what is corporate communications? Simply put, it is communicating the company’s policies, ideas and strategy to its stakeholders be it the company’s employees, customers, shareholders, or its business partners. In many large companies this function has multiple departments:

External Communications (communicating to customers and other businesses through PR and advertising, managing relationships with analysts, bloggers, shareholders, etc.).

Internal Communications or Employee Engagement (communicating to your employees, communications from the management to the employees, building employee and management relationship, and communicating to the sales force).

While Corporate Communications helps build the brand, the goal of Marketing Communications is to help meet sales figures.

SUSHMA SHANKAR (CENTRE) WITH HER COLLEAGUES AT IBM.

BUT WHAT REALLY HAPPENS IN CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS?

On a day-to-day basis in a large organisation, many types of important communications are sent out via different channels: mailers, intranet articles and posts, internal blogs, communities, company websites, etc. Important information is dispensed and relationships are built through these communications.

For example, crisis communication is an important part of Corporate Communications. To understand this better: If a company is facing a bleed in employee attrition or, in tough times, has to let go of employees, it takes a communications team to handle this type of crisis situation. Multiple messages and multiple channels are used to prevent panic and provide assurance that the company is in control of the situation.

This is just one example of a situation that Corporate Communications officers handle. With multiple stakeholders watching a company’s movements and its policies, communicators are the link among these stakeholders.

WHAT DO I DO AS A CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER?


I work on internal communications and seller communications at a regional level across the different lines of businesses. Each region consists of many countries, and some communications need to be created and deployed at a macro level. I work on communications campaigns for internal communications goals, such as communicating about the Code of Business Conduct and encouraging employees to comply with the code, or communications to mid-level managers on where to access important information that they need on a daily basis to handle employee issues.

A campaign consists of some or all of the following: e-mailers, intranet articles, presentations, printed collateral, etc. It is exciting to plan a campaign. It takes a lot of creativity, sense of humour, and awareness of the brand’s personality to create an effective campaign. A good example is of these posters that were created for the Smarter Planet campaign and have been used internally and externally.

SUSHMA WITH HER TEAM DURING THE IBM CENTENNIAL CELEBRATIONS.

Corporate Communications may not sound very exciting, but the challenges you face in this profession are at a human level. There is a lot of psychology involved in this profession. While it is easy to create a communication, ensuring that the message is effective enough to achieve a change in mindset or to break employee indifference is not easy. It takes creativity to send across a message that is attractive it’s a lot like using advertising to attract the employee’s attention.

I hope I have given you a fair idea of what corporate communications involves and why it is important to an organisation. The best way to get an inside look into corporate communication is to get some internship experience in a retail organisation or an IT company for a few months. Practical experience helps bring to life what you have heard from many experts who have worked for many years in this profession.