Thursday, 10 March 2016

Corporate communications departments; getting the structure right

As a headhunter focused on helping in-house corporate communications leaders to recruit, I’ve been able to see how organisations big and small structure their comms functions, and why.

Rarely does the structure of the comms team stay the same for more than a few years. Changes in leadership, business strategy, budgets, the economy – you name it – can and often do act as a catalyst for a fresh approach to executing corporate communications.

Often professional communicators start off as generalists, before focusing on just one corporate affairs discipline like media relations, public affairs or internal comms, and then broadening out again when they become a head of department to manage multiple disciplines. But is that the best way to develop talent?

Take content, seen by many as the fuel that drives effective communications, who’s responsible for creating it? A select few specialists? Or, should everyone on the team be identifying and developing it? Most of us like variety in our roles, so maybe specialists aren’t such a good idea.

But not everyone on a team can write engaging copy. And what about the ability to interrogate a balance sheet and handle tricky financial journalists, or to stay one step ahead of a crisis that’s unfolding via social media, surely these require specialist skills? Lean in-house teams who rely heavily on agency support can scale up and down quickly and buy in specialist skills and experience at the drop of a hat, but getting the best out of an agency is a specialist skill in itself.

Whichever approach you take there are always going to be pros and cons. The hub and spoke model of a central content team crafting core messages for channel managers to shape and deliver for their audience has proved very effective for a number of businesses. However, these heavily matrixed structures often create narrow, unappealing roles which make it difficult to attract or retain the best and brightest.

The answer, of course, is that the structure of corporate communications teams changes to meet the needs of the organisation. Effective teams need the right structure for the challenges ahead, buy-in from the top, the right functional leadership and the best people possible. Good luck.

Wayne Reynolds is the founder of corporate communications recruiter Birchwood Knight.

  • Media relations
  • Internal communications
  • Government affairs & public policy
  • Financial communications
  • Digital corporate communications
  • Speechwriting