Corporate communication is changing, as is the way it is perceived. Professor Ansgar Zerfass at Universität Leipzig gives five reasons why.

It is time to reconfigure

Dr. Ansgar Zerfass, professor of communication at the University of Leipzig and the project leader of the annual European Communications Monitor, strongly believes it is time to rethink strategic communication.  

“Communication has changed so dramatically that we need new approaches to how we organize corporate communication. We need to reconfigure processes and structures within the communication function,” says Dr. Zerfass.

Professor Zerfass recently visited Norway and BI Norwegian Business School to speak on future developments in strategic communication. He sums up five reasons why organizations must rethink their strategic communication efforts:

Key findings:

  • The increasing complexity of how organizations interact with more stakeholders through more media and in more directions.
  • The traditional concept of integrated communication is challenged by new flexible strategies for simultaneous and sequential voices through a variety of channels.
  • Top management lacks understanding of the communication function.
  • The profession has difficulties proving their impact on organizational goals.
  • Competencies in need of further development are mainly management skills and knowledge.

Social media power

Dr. Zerfass says social media is a strong contributor to the changing landscape of the communication function. Social media necessitates the need for developing new skills and modernizing work processes.

 “We need new strategies to deal with social media,” he claims. 

An example Dr. Zerfass uses is how social media is driving developments within ethics.

“About 72% of our respondents in the annual European Communications Monitor report that social media brings new ethical challenges. Social media is a world of the wild west, because there are so few rules,” he states. “Corporations are just beginning to understand the need for social media guidelines, and 1/3 of them now have a guide,” says Dr. Zerfass.

Norway and Germany are at the bottom of the list with regard to using ethical guidelines.

“We have a long tradition of having codes of ethics, but seldom use them. These codes need to be reconfigured for the digital age. It is better to have no codes than old codes, because people will then tend to rethink their ethical responsibilities”.   

Norwegian wake up call

New research by Professor Peggy Simcic Brønn, BI Norwegian Business School, looks at how the strategic communication function is perceived by business leaders in both public and private sectors.

The findings reveal that PR executives have challenges in creating a favorable impression for themselves and for their function.   

  • Leaders find corporate communication less important compared to other management functions.
  • Communication officers are often involved late in the strategic decision making process, especially in the public sector. 
  • Only 18% of leaders say they always invite communication executives to strategic planning meetings, but nearly 76% of communication executives say that communication is clearly understood as a strategic tool.
  • Leaders ranked communication skills as the most important communication discipline, while communication executives ranked it among the lowest.

The takeaway from this survey is that communicators at the executive level need management, coaching and strategic competencies as well as basic operational skills. As noted by Dr. Zerfass, “Communication executives need to stop communicating themselves and enable others to do so.” 

Text and photo: Martin Uteng, BI Norwegian Business School. 


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