Corporate communication isn’t just a tool to roll out when a problem arises – it should be an integral part of an organization’s strategy, says Dartmouth Tuck School of Business Corporate Communication and Leadership Professor Paul A. Argenti.
Having consulted for and run training programs for hundreds of companies including General Electric, ING, Mitsui, Novartis and Goldman Sachs, Argenti is a pioneer in developing robust communication strategies, frameworks and courses. His research and engaging lessons reveal that an organization’s communication team is a vital management function that executes strategy and builds the corporate brand.
“Communication is a strategic general management function and such an important tool. It’s one of the most important levers an organization can use to help execute strategy, build its corporate brand and position itself to the world in general,” explains Argenti, who developed the first corporate communication programs at both Columbia University and Dartmouth. “Communication managers should be one of the first people a CEO can turn to, and not just when there’s a crisis. If organizations put money into a robust, strategic communication plan, they’ll get it back 10 times.”
Leveraging Corporate Communication to Execute Strategy
In his landmark 1993 textbook, “Corporate Communication” (McGraw Hill), now in its eighth edition, Argenti urges leaders to think of corporate communication as less about the mechanics of how organizations communicate, and more about how leaders can use communication to execute strategy. In it, he describes how a corporate communication department serves as the umbrella for media relations, crisis communication, internal communication and investor relations. By bringing these sub-functions together, leaders are able to deploy a highly coordinated strategy to define the organization both externally and internally.
“An organization needs to have a clear strategy and be able to articulate that strategy,” he explains. “Internally, it helps employees understand the business and creates the glue that brings a workforce together, enabling them to deploy a coherent message externally.”
Proactive Communication to Successfully Manage Crises
When leveraging corporate communication to craft an image, it’s essential to protect that strategic image externally when problems arise. Inevitable challenges will come up, and when they do, Argenti emphasizes the vital importance of recognizing a crisis and having a robust communication plan in place.
“There are horror stories about how companies will go through a crisis, fix it and then completely forget about it because a crisis communication plan isn’t embedded in the organization,” explains Argenti, who has directed executive programs for Novartis, Hitachi, Tapestry and Freddie Mac. “Many crises are ‘predictable surprises’ that don’t have to happen. Leaders should be able to anticipate problems ahead of time and stop them before they happen.”
A sought-after advisor, Argenti helps executives create thorough crisis communication blueprints, so they’re prepared to offer detailed, genuine responses when crises happen.
Knowing When, or if, it’s Beneficial to Join the Dialogue Around Contentious Topics
Social issue awareness and activism is spreading faster than ever before. While leaders may feel their organization should take a stand on a social issue, Argenti emphasizes the importance of having a comprehensive communication plan first. Being able to clearly communicate an organization’s purpose is paramount to both consumers and shareholders.
“If a business doesn’t have any purpose, what’s the purpose of that business?” asks Argenti, who authored “Corporate Responsibility” (SAGE Publications, 2015). “Organizations are under more pressure than ever to be thoughtful about social issues and must have a sense of what direction they’re going in, both in terms of the values of the organization and what social issues they should be focused on. But leaders must think deeply and strategically with their communication team before getting involved.”
How Does Your Organization’s Reputation Stack Up?
While leaders like to be able to quantify their organization’s reputation, Argenti says rankings by external organizations don’t tell the whole story. In search of a way to thoroughly evaluate organizational reputation, he teamed up with an evolutionary biologist to take a unique scientific approach to measuring how a company is perceived. Argenti points out that how living things evolve and how businesses perform comes down to one of the most basic shared challenges – competition. By starting with competitive context and taking a scientific approach, the combinations of attributes that build strong business reputations can be revealed in real-world terms.
An evangelist for the power of corporate communication, Argenti’s message is one that encourages leaders to understand the real reputational and bottom-line benefits of a strategically aligned communication plan and how to build one.
“Effective communication has to begin with thoroughly analyzing your audience, understanding it and choosing the best strategic method to get through to that audience,” Argenti summarizes. “You cannot effectively communicate without first authentically understanding your audience.”
Before problems arise, a clear corporate communication strategy must be in place. Stern Strategy Group connects you with renowned thought leaders whose insights, strategies and management frameworks help organizations fuel growth and disruptive innovation to better compete in a constantly changing world. Let us arrange for these esteemed experts to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting sessions, workshops and keynotes.