All about Corporate Communications

The corporate world is wide-open territory for communications majors. If you take the simplest definition of communications as "getting the word out," the corporate community has one of the argest uses of this activity. Some sectors need to get the message out in-house through newsletters, memos, position papers, letters from the president, corporate training, seminars, and workshops; other sectors need to get the message out to the public or to consumers, through conventions, advertisements, publicity campaigns, community relations, or media contacts.

A survey of state universities throughout the United States reveals that the top two majors students are currently pursuing are 1) business and 2) communications. Aspects of the two majors are closely related. Although some business majors focus their training in areas of banking and finance, many others choose to pursue careers identical to those prepared for by communications majors. Equally, a significant number of communications majors choose a university department and career track that will lead them into jobs in business settings.

The process of getting the word out can use the skills of just one person or employ teams of ten, fifty, or a hundred professionals. Their job titles and the roles they play are as varied as the messages they are striving to convey.

A major accident at a chemical plant in Martinez, California, in 1992 is a good illustration of how this works. Two maintenance workers accidentally opened a valve on a tank storing spent sulfuric acid. One of the workers was killed and the fires resulting from the spill shut down a major freeway. Because the community had already been in a four-year battle with the company, opposing a permit to incinerate hazardous waste, the accident spurred panic and anger. Company spokespersons handled the crisis with sincere apologies and a constant, ongoing availability of information to the press and the community. After two years, the open communication and a change of attitude and management improved relations between the company and the community to such a point that both sides feel there is now an atmosphere of trust and confidence.

In addition to problem-solving roles, corporate communicators can also be hired to work in the area of multimedia communications, both in-house and external. IABC past president Norman Leaper notes that, "Progressive organizations have replaced self-serving news releases and publications featuring pompous pep talks on productivity with communication programs that include sophisticated films, videotapes, and other audio-visual efforts; bulletin board presentations; telephone news systems and hotlines; and literally scores of other forms of communication that reach millions of people within and outside the organization."

Corporate communicators arrange news conferences, conduct surveys, produce radio or TV news shows, arrange monthly "gripe" sessions between management and staff, design brochures describing the company's strengths and aims, write speeches for the CEO to deliver to stockholders, arrange seminars and workshops, edit glossy magazines, or initiate programs to ensure workplace safety or increase environmental awareness.

Corporate communicators interested in editing and publishing have an estimated 30,000 internal and external organizational publications to approach throughout the United States and Canada. Only 20 percent of consumer magazines hire new grads right out of college, and when they do, they usually position the new staff in low-responsibility slots. Communications majors entering the world of business get a shot at the whole show, from planning features to choosing illustrations.

What follows is an actual job advertisement for an experienced corporate communicator:

Taking an entry-level position within a corporation is almost a guaran-tee of a start up the corporate ladder. Successful corporate communicators show initiative, creativity, and a strong sense of compassion and integrity. The larger the corporation, the more varied the duties, and the more chances of adding to your professional and personal skill bank.

Corporate communications is an exciting and challenging field of opportunities, opportunities that are particularly available to communications majors.

Intercultural Communications

With more and more American companies becoming global with multinational concerns, intercultural and cross-cultural communications have become important issues. Major corporations, such as Coca-Cola, have toeholds in almost every conceivable market in the world, from major markets in the Far East to isolated pockets in Africa or small island nations. In addition, international businesses based overseas deal with countries other than just the United States. Corporate Japan, for example, courts a lucrative market in Korea, and the European Economic Community regularly conducts business across the geographical and cultural borders of Europe.

American communications majors play an important role in intercultural and cross-cultural communications. When a Pizza Hut opens its doors in a Persian Gulf country, its an American intercultural communicator who goes there to ensure good relations between Arab franchise owners and Indian or Filipino workers.

The goal is to get the job done-without offending anyone. Intercultural communications experts work both at home and abroad. They deal with corporate managers or entry-level workers, teaching effective communication skills between cultures.

Corporate Training

Just as with corporate communicators, corporate trainers can put their skills to use in a variety of capacities. For example, before intercultural communicators can even begin to accomplish their employers' goals, they might have to spend months living in a culture, feeling their way through to becoming familiar with it. This is not the most effective and productive method. Instead, savvy companies hire the services of a corporate trainer who is already versed in the particular culture and environment. An expert corporate trainer will save a company time and uncountable dollars. A good trainer can teach a potential intercultural communicator most of what he or she needs to know in a matter of weeks, not months, and for far less money than an extended stay overseas would cost.

Corporate trainers also work strictly stateside, teaching communications skills between staff and management, conducting seminars and workshops, running motivational sessions, and teaching new skills and upgrading existing ones.

A corporate trainer could work with employees and a new computer system or provide orientation to new employees. The role of the corporate trainer can be as varied as the company's enterprises.

Investor Relations

Investor relations is a specialty within corporate communications for businesses that are owned by the public through the sale of stock. The investor relations professional makes sure that there is an open flow of information from the corporation to shareholders, prospective investors, financial analysts who make stock recommendations, lending institutions that issue lines of credit, and business and financial writers associated with the news media.

Investor relations practitioners might also be involved with the writing and distribution of quarterly and annual reports, and ensuring that the company adheres to regulations imposed on it by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In addition to a strong communications background, candidates in this area must also have solid financial and investment expertise.

Government Relations

A government relations specialist puts PR techniques to good use when dealing with potential legislation that would negatively affect an organization. He or she can help to create public awareness or rally public opinion or sympathy to the cause.
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