Corporate communications is the way in which organizations interact with stakeholders beyond their traditional customer base – both internal and external. Again, one could argue that there is considerable overlap between this and marketing communications, with customers being a critical stakeholder. But in practice, this discipline tends to focus more on audiences such as employees, shareholders, and the communities within which the company operates. And when corporate communications does address customers, the focus tends to be on shaping their perception of the company and its corporate brand rather than on directly driving sales.
Again, as I began working my way up the ranks at marketing communications and then public relations agencies, I did not bother with such distinctions. Even early in my career, the focus was on a more integrated approach, which proved to be very valuable as I gained more experience and responsibility. In fact, when I joined Creamer Dickson Basford, there was a separate practice specializing in corporate communications, and I frequently worked on clients in this arena.
As technology has reshaped the communications profession, the distinction between marketing and corporate communications has arguably become even less important. It is true that different stakeholders have different interests, and can be reached through different channels, so one needs to tailor their communications accordingly. But technology has created considerable overlap in those channels, and therefore there is a greater need for synergy among the messages targeted at the various audiences.
The most important distinction about corporate communications is that it does focus on audiences beyond customers, addressing the multitude of other factors than can influence an organization’s success. As such, it is best known as the realm of advocacy, branding, cause-related marketing, change management, community relations, corporate identity, crisis communications, internal communications, investor relations, issues management, public affairs, reputation management, and thought leadership.
Over the years, I have gained hands-on experience in most of these areas – both in-house and on the agency side. In fact, I have developed an expertise in change management and internal communications – including employee relations – and have significant experience in branding, corporate identity, reputation management, and thought leadership. I also have some experience in advocacy, cause-related marketing, community relations, crisis communications, and issues management. I have not, however, done much work in investor relations. And while I do have some experience in public affairs, I lack the government relations experience that really distinguishes that as an expertise.