Strategic Communication: Dead or in Demand as Never Before?

Article excerpt

At a recent conference (not sponsored by IABC, by the way), I heard a communicators say that he wished he'd never hear the word "strategic" again.

I damn near died.

Just when we have evolved to our highest point, when communicators all over the world are practicing communication strategically, getting measurable results for their organizations, and being recognized and rewarded for it as never before, we hear this. What on earth does he want to replace the practice of strategic communication with? "Yeah, let's quit this 'strategic' madness and get back to just doing communication, without worrying about whether it's relevant to our business or not."

If we abandon strategic communication management, we will set the profession back so far that we will never recover. We'll all be saying in our new careers, "You want some fries with that order, Ma'am?"

To me, the most positive shift in our profession has been the shift to strategic thinking. Strategic (communication) thinking recognizes the cause and effect relationship between our communication activities and the achievement of our organizations' missions. It means that communication programs support successful completion of the organization's strategic activity in a measurable way. Today, senior leaders demand nothing less.

Just look at the resurgence of internal communication. Some say employee communication is our most-in-demand area of practice. This tells me that senior leaders want their employees to be a part of strategic management for positive results, and they know that communication is the bridge. Work issues are life issues. Building a dialogue helps disparate groups come together around a common theme.

With that in mind, will our senior leaders let us turn away from practicing communication strategically? I think not. Have you heard your CEO say that he/she wished all this business strategy stuff would go away? "Yeah, bag this strategic jive. I'm gonna run the company by whim and guesswork."

Imagine a senior leader telling his/her board of directors or governors or trustees that strategic management is a thing of the past. And what about shareholders? Would they allow senior leaders to do away with strategic management? CEO to shareholders at annual meeting: "Your management team has decided to cease strategic management, stop any market research, end our planning process, and throw away all business and operational plans. From now on we are going to follow our hunches, guesses, rumors and unsubstantiated ideas to maximize your shareholder value." Right after your CEO does that, you'll be able to yell back at him/her from the sales counter, saying, "Hurry up with those fries! I've got customers waiting."

I promise you this: I'll stop believing in and practicing communication strategically when MBA programs stop teaching future business leaders strategic planning. All we have to do is look at how future business leaders are trained. That's the information we need to know to gain their respect and trust.

The message is clear: Communicators need to become business managers who specialize in organizational communication. Organizational leaders respect business managers, and view their experience as necessary and relevant. Are we communicators having a business experience, or are business managers having a communication experience? I think we are communicators having a business experience, and it is our responsibility to become business managers, then help other business managers be effective and successful with their communication experience.

We must learn more about strategic management, not less. We must improve our ability to manage communication strategically, not abandon it as a fad. Right now, senior leaders respect us more than they probably ever have, and I believe it is due in large part to our evolution into strategic business communicators. Let's build on that momentum.

Senior organizational leaders frequently rise to the top corporate job from line functions and may not be trained in organizational communication management, typically a staff/administrative function. …