Nandkumar Y Sanglikar
What does it mean to be a strategic function?
In order to develop an understanding of this, we need to be familiar with the strategic planning process that drives the tactical decisions taken by communications professionals.
Strategy is a well co-ordinated approach to reaching an overall goal. An analogy from military strategy would be apt. In a given battle, the overall goal may be to secure a certain piece of ground or a particular town. The strategy is the coordinated effort of all participants to achieve that goal. When an organization sets a particular goal in support of its mission, strategy serves to integrate the efforts of all departments to achieve the goal.
Functioning effectively in that role requires solid research with results that drive decision making. It requires vision or a long-term rather than short-term mentality. Strategic functioning necessitates a broad perspective of the organizational environment and all contributing members. It demands incisive understanding of the organizational mission and the goals that directly support the accomplishment of that mission. Strategic managers are:
The development of communications and public relations functions in business organizations
Business organizations began giving serious attention to communication with publics in the early 1900s. By the 1960s, conflicts over issues important to key organizational publics gave birth to crisis management as a function of the organization’s communicators. Rather than just reacting to crises, good managers began to anticipate problems and mediate them before they could affect the organization’s environment and profitability, and issues management was born as a long term approach to identifying and resolving issues.
In spite of the conflict, issues management became popular in business communications practice and gave birth to the role of communication in strategic management, which evaluates all proposed action through a focus on organizational goals, usually defined in the short-term contributions to the bottom-line. Even though issues may be identified well in advance to be effectively mediated, the purpose is to save the organization a future difficulty, not to address the needs of organizational publics because they are intrinsically valued. This focus in communication brought us squarely into the camp of purely economically based, rationalist business management.
Shift to relationship building and trust
Partially as a reaction to economic orientation of strategic management and partially as a result of international trends in business, some scholars in the 1990s attempted to shift the emphasis in public relations to relationship building.
Societal trends affecting the practice of Business, Communications and Public Relations
Five trends in society should have led us to our roots in communication and relationship long ago.
1) Increasingly segmented publics need alternatives to traditional media channels for the dissemination of messages. In fact, even within the groups segmented by demographics and psychographics, we find smaller segments which have been labeled interpretive communities because of differences among them in the ways they receive interpret and act upon messages. These shared interest groups are evidenced now in the user communities fostered through internet channels, particularly social media.
2) Dramatically escalating social problems that no longer affect only fringe or marginalized groups in society. The productivity of young work-force in corporate India is seriously jeopardized by problems affecting families, particularly in urban India.
3) An increased reliance on organizational communicators to establish relationships with publics to mediate issues. Few progressive companies are forming alliances with communities, government and special interest groups to address societal problems. These efforts are ostensibly in the form of corporate social responsibility, but a more accurate justification of the establishment of cooperative effort is probably that corporations have been unable to solve these problems unilaterally.
4) Business entities face a more knowledgeable and business-savvy public that demands corporate commitment of resources to solve the problems affecting the community, employees and their families. They are aware of corporate profits and apply pressure for organizations to use their resources in socially responsible ways.
5) The public’s control over access to information. Whereas more limited channels of mass media place control in the organization, today’s consumer has more personal control over what information they receive. Withholding information in today’s technologically driven society is becoming increasingly difficult. Again, controlling information or giving it a spin is also becoming increasingly challenging as public has at its disposal more than one source of information. Building trust based relationships with publics is the ONLY approach that results in sustained credibility.
Essentially then, those in communications and marketing must think of their publics in terms of strategic communities. Companies and their communicators must approach their publics as strategic cooperative communities, focusing on relationship-based interaction among all members of a community to achieve individual and collective goals.
(Continued from last Thursday)