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Is communication a top management matter?

Demands made on central corporate communication

Communication is commerce with messages

The conventional, classic communication model is well known: on the one hand there is the sender or communicator, formulating the message (also communiqué), using the channel (medium, intermediary) in order to reach the addressee (communicant or recipient). And ideally, an effect is generated, a success that is achieved or may even be measurable. That is the theory so far.

And previously, things might have been just that simple: the German entrepreneur, Paul Julius Freiherr von Reuter, founder of the news agency bearing the same name sent stock market information from Brussels to Aachen by way of homing pigeons - as there was no functioning telegraph line at the time. Outpacing the speed of the stagecoach, he was able to market the news from the Paris stock exchange in Berlin. Sender, message, intermediary, receiver, success - end of story.

Today, our dealings with news, messages and especially corporate news are considerably more complex. Companies must anchor communication as a strategic task, understood as an integrated discipline.

"The progressing satiation of markets since years and the increasing similarity of products have resulted in a situation where companies are now less engaged in product competition and far more in communication competition. […] Consequently, companies are called on to develop new forms of communication in order to address their target groups in a specific and focused manner. In addition, measures for the integration of the various communication instruments must be stepped up, in order to support a faster and facilitated reception of the communicative messages."
Michael Bruhn, Integrierte Kommunikation. In: T. Schwarz / G. Braun: Leitfaden Integrierte Kommunikation, Page 23-80, Waghäusel 2006

Integrated corporate communication comprises the analysis, planning, organization, implementation and controlling of the entire internal and external communication of companies, organizations or persons with the aim of enabling consistent, and coordinated corporate communication.

In this context it is important to understand that it is no longer sufficient today for companies to simply send out information, in other words, pursue conventional push communication. Communication starts with consumers and customers, first and foremost. In modern pull communication (better as dialog) with target groups, the communication offerings must become interaction offers if companies are to wield a selection of multi-channel offerings that will "do justice to the communication requirements of different target groups."

All-in-one

Who is capable of knowing, planning or coordinating all of the relevant contents, all customers, their needs and specific linguistic styles, all communicators and their interests in companies, all of the products or services in all their specific aspects, as well as all of the multiplicators and their significance, communication history or customer history (especially in globally operating corporations)?

Switchboard tables of the central telephone office in Vienna around 1920

The photo shows the switchboard tables of the central telephone office in Vienna, in Dreihufeisengasse, around the year 1920 (Bildersammlung Historische Fernmeldetechnik, bayern-online.com)

In actual practice, communication deficits arise, as communicative measures are not, or cannot be, coordinated with each other in terms of contents, factual or formal or temporal aspects and factors. As barriers obstructing integrated communication in actual practice Bruhn (Bruhn, M.: Integrierte Kommunikation in den deutschsprachigen Ländern. Bestandsaufnahme in Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz. Wiesbaden 2006b) cites content related and conceptual, organizational-structural or personal-cultural barriers.The causes that are assumed here include lacking cooperation and communication, poor organization, pronounced departmental mentality, or the lack of a steering instance.

But even companies that maintain independent departments for communication and are able to draw on established communication guidelines (including Social Media Guidelines) that make their communication visible, coordinate their topics and messages - even these companies are rarely able to wield a central communication tool.

"The implementation of the process organization can be significantly supported by modern information and communication technologies […], in order to promote the flow of communication between the participating members of staff and streamline sub-processes. In addition, special databases can serve to ensure that the participating members of staff have permanent access to target group related (transaction and interaction oriented) information that is significant for shaping and designing the communication processes."
Michael Bruhn, Integrierte Kommunikation. In: T. Schwarz / G. Braun: Leitfaden Integrierte Kommunikation, Page 23-80, Waghäusel 2006

Communication needs more than just topics, target groups and communicators. In order to engage in sustainable, efficient, transparent, measurable and traceable communication, systems and technologies must be integrated, processes and acting persons defined, as well as media and objectives clearly stated and established. If communication is commerce with messages, then this trading can also be optimized according to economic and efficiency aspects. This is well worth some analysis - and usually worth some investments as well.

Integrated communication is a strategic corporate task, and is therefore decidedly a matter for top management!