It is difficult to overstate the critical importance of effective communication for most businesses and organizations.
It is through effective communication that customers learn about a company’s products or services and what makes brands unique compared to their competitors. It’s how management and employees coordinate their activities to ensure that the entire organization is marching toward the same strategic goals. It’s also how executives inform investors, the media, and the general public about important organizational developments.
In short, communication underlies many of the most significant activities that most businesses must complete.
Communication is so important that most organizations will eventually reach a point at which they realize they need to invest in building a corporate communications team responsible for these various activities.
Below, we explore the definition of the term “corporate communications,” identify the roles and functions of the communication department, and examine the top careers, skills, and trends impacting the communications industry.
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What is Corporate Communications?
Corporate communications refers to the way in which businesses and organizations communicate with internal and external various audiences. These audiences commonly include:
- Customers and potential customers
- Key stakeholders (such as the C-Suite and investors)
- The media and general public
- Government agencies and other third-party regulators
Corporate communications can take many forms depending on the audience that is being addressed. Ultimately, an organization’s communication strategy will typically consist of written word (internal and external reports, advertisements, website copy, promotional materials, email, memos, press releases), spoken word (meetings, press conferences, interviews, video), and non-spoken communication (photographs, illustrations, infographics, general branding).
The Functions of a Communications Department
In most organizations, the communications department is responsible for overseeing a wide range of communications activities. One of the simplest ways of understanding these different activities is to group them according to the role that they play within an organization, as below.
1. Media and Public Relations
This refers to the way in which a company or organization communicates with the general public, including the media, by:
- Organizing news conferences, product launches, and interviews, and creating materials (banners, flyers, etc.) for such events
- Writing and distributing press releases to the media to garner coverage
- Monitoring the news for mentions of the organization, its product, and key employees such as stakeholders and members of management
- Devising a plan to address unfavorable press coverage or misinformation
2. Customer Communications and Marketing
Though most businesses still differentiate between their marketing and communication departments, the lines between the two have begun to blur in recent years. Corporate communication strategy often impacts marketing strategy, and vice versa, which has increased cooperation and collaboration between the two functions.
It is not uncommon, therefore, for members of the communication department to help generate various marketing materials and general customer communications, including:
- Marketing emails
- Website copy
- Social media strategy
3. Crisis Communication
Crisis communication refers to the specific messaging that a company (or individual) portrays in the face of a crisis or unanticipated event which has the potential to damage their reputation or existence. In the event of such a crisis, it is the responsibility of the communications department to create a strategy to address it (often done with the aid of outside experts) which may include:
- Organizing interviews and news briefings for company representatives to discuss the issue at hand
- Advising company representatives on what to say and how to say it when speaking with members of the media
- Communicating with attorneys, government regulators, emergency responders, and politicians as necessary
- Generally protecting the organization’s reputation and ability to do business
Exactly what constitutes a “crisis” will depend on the type of organization but may include anything from workplace accidents and violence to business struggles to product defects, chemical spills, litigation, and more.
4. Internal Communications
In addition to being responsible for communicating the organization’s message with external audiences, most communications teams will play at least some role in internal communications, including:
- Drafting emails and memos announcing company news and initiatives
- Compiling employee resources (such as information about employee benefits)
- Creating printed materials, such as employee handbooks or flyers
- Facilitating group brainstorming sessions and training sessions amongst employees
- Managing internal blogs, newsletters, or other publications
Internal communication is often done at the direction of or in partnership with thehuman resources managementteam.
Corporate Communications Careers
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the media and communications industries is expected to grow at a rate of about six percent from 2016 to 2026—about as fast as growth for all occupations. This growth translates into an additional 43,200 positions, driven predominantly by organizations’ needs to create and disseminate information through ever-increasing communication channels.
Most individuals who work in corporate communications will choose to specialize in a particular area—for example, public relations, media relations, or general communications. The area of specialization can impact a communications professional’s salary, but similar positions are often comparable and are based upon an individual’s level of experience:
- Entry-Level: Communications Specialist ($50,789), Media Relations Specialist ($50,517), Public Relations Specialist ($46,950)
- Mid-Level: Communications Manager ($63,622), Media Relations Manager ($59,543), Public Relations Manager ($65,227)
- Senior-Level: Director of Communications ($77,828), Director of Media Relations ($84,299), Public Relations Director ($85,168), Chief Communications Officer ($126,885)
Required Skills for Corporate Communications Professionals
Pursuing a career in corporate communications requires a specialized skill set, regardless of the area on which you ultimately choose to concentrate. Some of the most important skills include:
1. Writing skills
As a member of the communications department, you will likely spend the majority of your day writing copy in various formats, from emails and memos, to blog posts and articles, to website copy, social media posts, printed collateral, and more. To be effective in the role, you will need to hone your writing skills so that you can communicate clearly to diverse audiences across many formats.
2. Presentation and public speaking skills
Presentation skills have become more important in recent years. In fact, according to once survey of corporate recruiters, it’s in the top five skills that companies look for when filling positions. Communications professionals are regularly expected to interface with the public and members of the media, as well as fellow employees and internal stakeholders. The ability to clearly and confidently present your ideas and information, whether in person or through the aid of technology (such as a video or webinar) is expected in many roles.
3. Communicating with data
Organizations now collect more data than at any point in history, all of which is critical in informing important strategic decisions. As data has proliferated, employees across disciplines are finding that they must interact with this data in new ways. Modern communications professionals must be adept at interpreting data from a variety of sources, communicating with that data, and using it to tell compelling stories.
4. Research and critical thinking
Depending on your exact role within an organization and the types of communication that you are expected to create, you may find yourself spending a lot of time searching for resources that can inform your content. The ability to conduct research and—more importantly—evaluate your resources critically, is an essential part of many communications roles.
5. Technical skills
Technological advancements are shaping the field of communications as much as any other industry. The International Association of Business Communications states that the five most important technology trends impacting corporate communications are chatbots, blockchain, virtual reality, extremely-personalized experiences, and artificial personal assistants. Many (if not all) of these technologies are being driven by developments in machine learning and artificial intelligence, which threaten to automate many roles. Developing your technical skills can help you remain competitive in this new reality.
Starting a Career in Corporate Communications
Those looking to break into many entry-level communications positions at most companies can typically do so by earning a bachelor’s degree in communications, marketing, or a related field. However, in order to qualify for more competitive managerial and senior-level positions, candidates must be capable of demonstrating a certain level of skill and expertise beyond what an undergraduate degree typically signifies.
Earning an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Corporate and Organizational Communication, can help you obtain this level of skill to advance into senior-level positions.
At Northeastern, the MS in Corporate Communication is designed specifically for professionals looking to fast-track their professional careers. Challenging academics are taught by professors with real-world experience and paired with many experiential learning opportunities (such as co-ops and capstone projects) to prepare students to address the complex communication challenges faced by modern corporations. Six unique concentrations allow students to learn deeply about the area of communications most closely-aligned with their career aspirations, including:
- Human resources management
- Public and media relations
- Project management
- Social media
- Cross-cultural communication
Want to learn more about advancing your career in communications? Download our free guide on the Skills that Every Communicator Needs in the Digital Era.