Institutionalisation of the PR ‘Educationist’ role – a South African case

As suggested by Prof Emanuele Invernizzi, co-organizer of the Euprera Congress taking place in Milan 16-18 October, I listened to his interviews with a number of academics and practitioners on the Congress website on the topic of the ‘Institutionalisation of Public Relations’. Both Prof Betteke van Ruler from the Netherlands and Prof Anne Gregory from the UK emphasised the importance of the educational role of PR. This was one of the four PR roles/dimensions identified in the European Body of Knowledge Project (EBOK) in 2000, described as: ‘To assist organisational members to become communicatively competent in order to respond to societal demands. This has to do with the mentality/behaviour of employees’.

In the Congress interviews, Betteke reiterated this view and added that everybody in the organisation is responsible for communication; that managers are responsible for seeing that it is organized; and that PR is responsible for assisting managers in this task. PR practitioners are not responsible for all communication in an organization. Anne was of the opinion that PR represents stakeholder voices and expectations and had to bring it to the attention of senior managers. But PR is also responsible to educate managers on how to communicate both internally and externally.

This made me think of the master’s research of one of my students, Mateboho Green (reported at the 2006 Euprera Congress in Carlisle). She empirically verified the four EBOK roles (‘reflective’, ‘managerial’, ‘operational’ and ‘educational’) in the privatized telecommunications service provider in South Africa, Telkom—one of South Africa’s leading brands. The roles were measured according to the ‘expectations’ and ‘perceptions of performance’ that the top 140 executives (that made up Telkom’s dominant coalition) had of the PR division.

One of the major aims of Mateboho’s research was to conceptualise and measure the PR ‘Educationist’ role. Telkom was selected for the case because Mateboho was working there at the time in Internal Communication, and had insider knowledge that the PR ‘Educationist’ role was probably institutionalized in Telkom. According to the findings of the quantitative study (and its confirmatory factor analysis), she was right—the 140 executives expected it and judged the PR division on its performance. As a matter of fact, the PR ‘Educationist’ emerged as the strongest of the four roles measured and verified.

Differing from the EBOK ‘Educationist’, Mateboho anchored her PR ‘Educationist’ in the field of Management Communication — an interdisciplinary field that integrates the functional skills of Business Communication with the knowledge orientation of Organisational Communication. It borrows from communication science everything that a manager/leader/supervisor needs to know (knowledge) and to do (skills) in order to manage people better, and is the only field that totally integrates communication with management. The focus is on internal communication processes, e.g. the informal interpersonal communication between managers and subordinates. (It thus differs from the EBOK role in that it is not aimed at all organisational members but at a specific subset, namely managers/leaders/supervisors).

The role of the PR ‘Educationist’ (as measured in Telkom) is thus focused on making managers aware of their communication responsibilities towards employees — managing conflict and change, motivating, encouraging and empowering employees to participate, increasing productivity, unifying and leading employees in achieving organisational goals. Managers have to be guided in optimally using communication in solving decision-making problems, resolving conflict, being change agents, and being expert at interpersonal communication with subordinates. They must be coached to be employee-centred rather than production-centred. Although it is the role of the PR ‘Educationist’ to support, coach, educate and assist managers, and be a consultant to them on becoming a skilled communicating manager/leader, it is NOT to communicate on the manager’s behalf. The ‘communicators’ in this instance are the managers themselves.

How come this role was institutionalized in Telkom? I can only speculate–maybe because Prof Gustav Puth, a South African expert in Management/Leadership Communication, consulted the PR division? Maybe because Adri van der Merwe, Nr 2 PR Executive in Telkom came to the Univ of Pretoria to do her masters in Communication Management? Maybe because Adri developed a model for leadership communication (supervised by Gustav) that was subsequently implemented amongst the 3600 Telkom managers? Maybe because Retha Groenewald, NR 3 PR Exec, was a previous academic with a master’s in Communication Management? What was no maybe is that employee communication surveys indicated over 90% satisfaction with the communication (at this time). Could this be the difference that one or two master’s degrees can make for 62 000 employees?

(To place this seemingly unrelated conclusion in perspective, see the PRconversation on the value of post-graduate education that was concurrently conducted.)

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14 Replies to “Institutionalisation of the PR ‘Educationist’ role – a South African case

  1. Thank you, Prof Invernizzi, for bringing more clarity on this conceptualisation. Ever since Toni mentioned it on the blog, it has interested me. To encourage discussion by a wider group of people, and because others might know of similar/related concepts, I have turned this part of your comment into a full post. (Here it is buried in an unrelated post where it could easily be missed).

    It does seem that all the participants to this conversation agrees that employee communication has become a core PR function. With regards to the term public relations, in SA too the preferred term is corporate communication or communication management. There are too many negative connotations to ‘public relations’, too much baggage from the past (and even the present).

    In my work, I have always equated the management function of public relations to corporate communication or communication management. I see no theoretical difference between these terms. (I know there are many who do). But I agree with you and Toni that we should move forward (together) in this regard.

    Thanks, Gustav, for your explanation. Your text book has opened many eyes to the relationship between strategy, leadership and communication — not least my own as your student. And a few years later when I lectured it to thousands of management students in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at the Univ of Pretoria, I saw the same delight and understanding in their eyes that I used to feel.

  2. Hi Everyone,

    First, I have to thank Benita for airing my views when I am unable to spend too much time chatting! Toni, I would like to get back to your question regarding behavioural change. In my mind, this is the essence and ultimate objective of internal communication in functional organisations. In fact, in my book titled The Communicating Leader, the sub-title is The Key to Strategic Alignment. I state quite clearly that (specifically ORGANISATIONAL) leadership is essentially about execution and performance. I firmly believe, and have substantive evidence in all organisations where I have assisted in creating a shared mental model of communicating leadership, that the primary responsibility of organisational leaders (a leader being everyone who has followers)is to lead her or his followers strategically forward. From a communication perspective, they have a two-fold primary responsibility: 1) to communicate the enterprise strategy (explaing WHAT it entails) and 2) to interactively and participatively lead their followers in contextualising the strategy (deciding within the specific functional context what it means to US and what we can and need to DO to embody or execute the strategy).

    It is almost impossible to talk about leadership without thinking about strategy. The essence of strategic leadership then lies in communicating in such a way that individual employees, functional units, and eventually the entire organisation align themselves and move forward towards the commonly shared strategic goals.

    Viewing and practically dealing with internal line communication in this way, leads to significant behavioural change. Firstly, it empowers line leaders to truly become startegic influencers; secondly, it empowers employees to become significant contributors on the level of contextualisation (which is substantive rather than the fairly useless concept of “buy-in” which mostly is nothing more than token consultation); finally, it gives significance and meaning to people’s work, being able to purposefully do things and do them in ways that clearly contribute to the overall ideals and objectives of the organisation.

    It works like a charm!

  3. Dear Benita, dear All
    I have been following your very interesting and stimulating discussion, and I’m happy to attempt (if it is of any “historical” interest and if you will excuse my broken English…) to answer to your kind invitation to explain what I meant when in 2005 (one year later than you said, Toni!) I used in my public relations manual the concepts of core and extended pr.

    With these, I tried (mainly for students but not only for them…) to describe the boundaries of the professional field given the very rapidly changing, expanding and growing importance of public relations contents within organizations as well as the different points of view of scholars from various fields (namely management, micro economics, sociology and public relations), practitioners, professional associations, and managers/CEOs of non profit and for profit organizations.

    Core pr refers to a concept of public relations focussed on its specific professional activities, mostly related to its historical roots and development.
    This is the concept and the definition that scholars in the micro-economics and management field as well as the managers/CEOs usually use both at a conceptual and at a practical level.
    Core pr includes institutional (or if you wish external) communication, media relations, events, Public affairs, CSR, crisis and environmental communication as well as all the reflective and measurement activities.

    Extended pr refers to an enlarged conceptualization inlcuding, besides the core activities, all relational and communicational activities traditionally carried out in organizations by directions/functions different from the communication/pr one.
    This is the concept and the definition of public relations that scholars in the pr and sociological field, as well as the practitioners and their associations, use both at a conceptual and at a practical level.
    Extended pr includes marketing, financial and internal communication.

    This was my 2005 definition.
    Today I fully agree with those (all?) of you who think that internal/employee communication, including the educational role, has become a core pr activity. This is not just because internal communication is now part of the communication/pr direction/function in a large and growing (50 to 75% according to Fraser) majority of organizations.
    It has also to do with the pivotal position that internal pr is assuming within the entire net of the stakeholders communications/relations.

    A few more words on the so called “image of pr” issue, raised by Estelle.
    While agreeing completely with Toni when he says that relationships are the primary competence/responsibility of pr practitioners, and that communication is just a tool in their hands, I think that Estelle is right saying that all top communicators in organizations are now called strategic communication managers. In my researches (2004 and 2008) NOT IN ONE of the largest Italian companies the communication/pr direction is called pr. It is always called communication direction, external communication or similar.
    Nevertheless their main activity is stakeholder relationship management and engagement.

    The solution I suggest here is pretty (too much?) simple: it is the one Toni and I implicitly used by selecting “Institutionalizing PR and Corporate communication” as title of the Milano Euprera congress, where public relations and corporate communication are actually used as synonyms.
    If we all agree that the interests, the issues, the concepts and the goals are the same, although under different names, we could facilitate the dialogue between managers and practitioners and the exchange between scholars in the management and in the public relations fields.
    Doing so we could probably enrich the body of knowledge of public relations and corporate communication, once we agree their contents are the same….
    What do you think?

  4. Benita, would you please ask Prof. Puth how behavioural change is achieved?

    It is my impression (yet to be suffragated by a decent and acceptable rationalization) that, while some years ago a competent professional with the right resources could be somewhat confident that by changin the opinions of a specific public these opinions would eventually turn into behaviours, today -for many, many reasons worth another post- this is no longer so (if not in the very short term..).

    I am sure the relevance of the question is easily understood, because organizations are interested in investigating and influencing opinions only if and when these bear relationship with subsequent behaviours.

    If this is not necessarily so any longer (as I suspect, then there would be no incentive to invest in public relations…..

  5. Prof Gustav Puth, initiator of the Communication Management degree at the Univ of Pretoria (SA) in 1993 and currently consultant in Leadership and Strategy Development, has provided me with some comments on internal communication and the educational role of PR practitioners, as it was implemented while he was consultant to Telkom SA at the time of Mateboho Green’s research mentioned in this post.

    Gustav says that, paradoxically, many organisations fail to harness the full power of internal communication because of their over-reliance on a few designated PR/communication practitioners constituting the typical internal communication function. Hard evidence clearly indicates that combining the professional competency of internal communication practitioners with the personal access and engagement between line leaders and their followers greatly enhanced the impact of internal communication on performance excellence.

    The role of internal communication can take various forms. While the most common is to be accountable for communicating to employees, another role is to enable and facilitate an organisation’s line leadership communication channels and processes. A primary responsibility in this case is to originate and package the internal communication content for leaders to communicate to their followers. In doing this, the following criteria should be considered:

    o The key role of internal communication practitioners is to provide leaders with the content for communication. To achieve this, open access to and close collaboration with top management and unions are essential. In implementing this role, practitioners could facilitate channels such as a leadership conference and a line briefing process in collaboration with HR.
    o In line with their content provider role, practitioners can originate briefing documents for the line briefing process. Since it is necessary to assess whether messages have been received and understood, they coordinate the evaluation and closing of communication gaps after each activity.
    o Practitioners must ensure that leaders understand the role of communication in achieving success; their role as communicators; that their organisation is in a constant process of change; and how behavioural change is achieved.
    o Practitioners must furthermore assist leaders to help their employees see how their organisation is perceived by other stakeholders and the importance of corporate culture in influencing the corporate reputation.
    o Practitioners must also assist leaders to find solutions and create quick wins in order to implement and live out the corporate culture.
    o Practitioners must also assist leaders to communicate personally and passionately to demonstrate their buy-in to the process of implementing any organisational change effort.

  6. Wow, you guys, you have sure been busy! Thank you so much for all your inputs, it is very valuable.

    Fraser, the first thing I find interesting about your roles is the way you talk about them—as roles for an ‘internal communication’ sub-function. I have never thought of them like that, but of course they could be seen as such if you want to make the internal/external differentiation. While roles 2-4 are obviously internally focused, the ‘communicator’ and ‘strategist’ are both internally and externally focused.

    In my frame of reference, the ‘communicator’ is the historic technician/manager role, which I see as performing the window function of communication (both these from the corporate communication/PR domain). Holmstrom calls this the expressive role (from the sociology domain). In strategic management, this is the information disseminating role of the boundary spanner. On the other hand, I see the ‘strategist’ as performing the mirror function of corporate communication, which Holmstrom calls the reflective task—i.e. the information gathering and interpreting role of the boundary spanner.

    I am of course with you on the ‘training/coaching’ role–the PR educationist. I know that Toni said somewhere on the blog that he considers this role to be strategic (together with the reflective role). It might interest you to know that at the Univ of Pretoria, during the first 10 years of the Communication Management degree (1993-2003), our students had mainly management subjects in their first year, Leadership (originally called Management) Communication in their second year (also taken by many other management students) and focused on PR only in their final year. (This shows the importance that was placed on Leadership Communication).

    Your ‘corporate strategy execution’ role sounds to me like Danny Moss’s ‘strategy communication.’ He differentiates it from ‘communication strategy’, which is more strategic in nature (I agree with him that there is a difference). With the former, the PR person stands outside the ‘boardroom door’ and communicates what he/she is told. When participating in communication strategy development, the practitioner helps to or develops the communication strategy. (I remember you said at some stage you don’t believe in the concept of ‘communication strategy’—we should still have that discussion later. (Maybe in another post). There is enough here to keep me busy for the best part of the evening, if not the week!!).

    I find the ‘small c communication change’ role very interesting and worthy of further attention because of the bottom line implications. Maybe I can get one of my students to research it. Also, I tried to get hold of your article in Strategic Communication Management (Vol 12,3 April/May 2008), but 2008 is not available online. If you have it handy, could you please email it to me? (I don’t know if copyright allows you to upload it on the blog?).

    Toni, it is absolutely amazing that Italy already had a master’s in PR in 1962. (Does anybody know when the first PR master’s started in the US)? With regards to internal communication, in South Africa it is mostly situated within PR/corporate communication depts (Estelle, do you agree)? My guess is that the incidence might even be higher than the 50-75% Fraser mentioned for NA.

    If internal communication is to be a core competency (whatever this means in the PR context—it still has to be decided, it seems)–it nevertheless has to be independent from other functions. And to me, events and etiquette are not on the same ‘level’ as public affairs and media relations. I see the latter two as core functions to which employee/internal communication also belongs. They all focus on a primary stakeholder group while events is a PR activity.

    Toni, when you mentioned Prof Invernizzi’s differentiation between core and extended competencies in an earlier post on this blog, I interpreted it as the difference between PR’s ‘strategic’ role versus its ’support’ role (of other functions/business units, etc). Potentially, PR can support any other function with its tools/activities, i.e. arrange events such as a product launch. (But that is an activity in pursuit of Marketing’s goals) which is different from its strategic role. So if PR reports to marketing, it is unlikely that it will formulate PR strategy or even set PR goals—all its energies will be expended in using its activities to achieve Marketing (or any other function’s) goals—and that is why it looses its identity when reporting to such functions. Actually, it then doesn’t have one.

    Maybe we can ask Prof Invernizzi to weigh in and explain what he means, considering the criteria for core competencies mentioned by Craig, which provides real insight. (In my outsider view, internal communication in Telkom SA fulfilled all these criteria). But I agree with Craig that in many instances the PR function or one of its subsets does not. I think that it will become a core competency only when the strategic role of PR has become institutionalised. As Estelle rightly says, all that is institutionalised at the moment is the technician role, not always performed ethically—which explains the bad image. And we also have to get away from the negative associations of ‘Public Relations’. But as Toni says, communication is not all we do. If you look at Fraser’s 5 roles, it seems to me that only 2 are communication roles!!

    Craig, I am going to save your characteristics of a strategic field for another discussion. One last question: Do you think that the relationship paradigm for PR provides enough of a societal benefit to pass the ‘value’ test? Is it not organisation centered rather than society centered, since the organisation determines who the stakeholders are? I agree with Toni that communication is only part of what we do, but do relationships as an overarching framework cover all we do? (Now I am putting fat in the fire!!).

    Toni, I look forward to your post addressing all the criticalities.

  7. Dear All

    This is a very thought provoking debate. I agree with all the above comments – also with Tony’s. Perhaps the secret lies in “passing the so-called ‘value’ test” as Craig puts it.

  8. Estella, Craig and of course Benita and others:

    before stranding out to the ‘image of the profession’ or ‘naming’ games in which we always seem to get stuck, when we try to advance arguments of some substance, I would venture to return to the institutionalization process.

    Certainly, Estella, one of the glass half empty elements of this process, in my personal view and quite contrary to yours, is that this process accelerates in a period when the use of ‘communication’, if it ever did, makes little sense anymore… as this is only one tool for the development of stakeholder relationships which are -vastly more than reputation, image or identity- a real and directly tangible and measurable value of an organization.

    So you see, we seem to have a strong disagreement here.
    Also, I do not agree with your statement that savvy top managements of effective organizations consider effective communication more valuable than effective stakeholder relationships.

    Also, please click on the right hand side of this blog and download the ‘what is pr?’ pdf which argues mostly in the same direction.

    I don’t normally like to hide behind the ‘big ones’, but I cannot resist here to cite verbatim a very recent statement by the director of communication of the world’s largest and most diversified company (you decide which one it is) which is to appear, with many others, in a chapter of a significant research effort undertaken by one of my best nyu master students for her capstone (but more on this when it is finished).

    Here goes:
    “I think that PR has always been about relationships, but it has changed fundamentally, in that relationships have almost become the primary responsibility of a PR practitioner—and it’s not just with the Wall Street Journal or New York Times—it’s relationships with everyone who has a significant influence on the reputation of your company. I think it’s great for the function, for the profession, and it’s much more exciting for me to think about managing relationships and issues rather than practicing stereotypical PR, which is get something from marketing team that they want to sell, then put a press release together and call a few reporters. It’s a very good development”.

    But, before turning on the heat on this one, allow me to invite you to consider also some other relevant questions which emerge from the institutionalization process.

    Mind you, not that I am against it.
    Quite the contrary!

    Like Estella, I think we had better look at the criticalities rather than at the evident benefits (we can easily leave these to the many panglossians of our global community, and they will surely do a good job).

    In short, if a professional community exists (professionals, educators, researchers, students) it is also defined in its efforts and ability to understand what is happening in the market place, to identify the criticalities, to study these and to formulate to our stakeholders acceptable and con-vincing processes and methods which allow organizations involved in the process to minimize them.

    Please click on the right hand side of this blog to look through the different posts which have sofar identified some (certainly not all) of these criticalities.

    My idea is to launch, towards the end of August, a new post addressing all these criticalities, plus those which come into your minds and that you will want to share with me,besides the core/extended competencies, including the highly relevant comments by Fraser and Craig (who however seem not to give importance to the organizational porosity issue which in my view remains central); and the professional identity one indicated by Estella and Craig.


  9. By virtue of what’s been researched and published in the practitioner literature over the years, most internal communication practitioners would rather report to and be part of an overall, umbrella PR/Corporate Communication unit than report to the corporate HR or corporate Marketing unit. Surveys I’ve seen for years (see recent Melcrum studies for example) indicate that anywhere from 50-75% of internal communication units are part of PR/Corporate Communications. This differs by country, higher in North America and lower elsewhere. It is interesting to see the change in the UK over the past dozen years. Internal communication has grown in value – and as it has gained status, it is moving from HR to PR. This parallels, though in a delayed fashion, a trend in NA, a trend that first started post the economic downturn of the mid and late 80s. Simply note that since the mid 80s, the number of associations, trade publications, practitioners specializing in internal communication have grown tremendously. In my mind, this has been the number one growth area in PR – at least in NA – over the past decade and a half.

    The GA, IPRA, etc. aside, the real international reach belongs to Melcrum and IABC. And both are specialists in internal comms.

    Save for a few academics, theory building in internal communication has been left to the practitioners. This is an area where academics have to play catch up. It may be viewed as ‘working class’ theory, but there is a plentiful and robust body of knowledge in internal communication – and there are the vehicles to disseminate that theory.

    While there are a few proponents of reporting to HR left in the practitioner ranks (particularly if the focus of internal comms is benefits comms), from the comments I’ve seen on listservs and forums, there is a consensus that if internal comms is to perform both broadly (per the five roles above) and strategically, it needs to be associated with PR/Corporate Communication (assuming that other PR sub-functions are part of PR/CC as well).

  10. Bravo Estelle. I am highly supportive of the view you related to from Ann and Prof. King that is shared above. If PR is ever able to achieve the positive institutionalisation its practitioners seek, it must pass the so-called “value” test — which means that the society as a whole will clearly see and understand the benefit (i.e., broadly defined — PR must have clearly identifiable societal benefit as well as organisational if it is to be considered amongst the most respected professions) that the activity generates, and be willing to expend scarce resources in seeking those benefits. The proxy sociologists use in determining this tends to be average salary levels. If you compare PR/Comms practitioners (e.g., managers) to other field’s managers within an enterprise (e.g., HR manager, marketing manager, accounting manager, finance manager, info systems manager, etc.), you’ll see they tend to earn far less. This has held in over half a dozen countries that I have data for, and cannot be explained solely by the so-called “velvet ceiling” observation that a higher percentage of females holds these PR positions (e.g., similar percentages of women hold the HR roles as well and earn more money on average in their roles).

    Having said those things, for any field to be strategic, it must consistently display and understood by other strategic executives to display, at a minimum, the following characteristics:
    1) Be intimately involved in the organization’s strategic decisions
    2) Generate long-term benefits for the organization
    3) Offer rare or unique value that no other function/field can match
    4) Help the organization uniquely in the marketplace with competitively positioning the organization’s products/services with its clients/customers
    5) Perform activities that impact the majority, if not all, of the rest of the organization’s areas to perform their activities better (i.e., this is known to strategy scholars as the “cascade” or “pebble in the pond” effect)

    I am all for the strategic communication management role for practitioners in PR. The bigger question for those of us in this forum is which groups and individuals will systematically pursue an institutional agenda to help practitioners achieve this status over the next decades?

  11. Hi All

    I agree with everything that was said above, however, one concern that could make all of the roles mentioned above difficult to play in an organisation, is still the image of the profession. If a CEO (or other managers) associates public relations with the typical activities of the technician role, it will be difficult to convince him/her that a PR practitioner can also play a serious educator role (I raise this point since I see most of the contributors use the term “public relations” in their comments.)

    Elsewhere on this blog Ann Gregory raised the point in her contribution called “Global opinions on public relations and its impact on society, from local perspectives” that Chief Executive Officers have indicated that they don’t like the term ‘public relations’ and that they don’t want their Directors in charge of communication to have the title “Director of Public Relations” I wholeheartedly agree with her point of view. I must once again cite Prof Mervyn King, convenor of the King Report III on corporate governance in SA (sorry about this, but he has really contributed significantly to my understanding of how senior management views our profession), who recently politely told me – when I used the term public relations in a conversation with him – that “the term public relations is not used in organisations anymore – top communicators are called strategic communication managers” (This was an interesting observation by someone who is a successful business person and academic in the legal field. He clearly showed his preference for the term strategic communication management.) This is perhaps something that we could keep in mind when debating the institutionalisation of our discipline.

  12. Hello Tony: At the risk of weighing in to a conversation that I am late to the table at, I would humbly suggest that there are a number of factors that need to be considered before employee communication could be considered a core competence at an organization. Let me suggest several that have shown up in the research, any of which could change the desirability of a response:

    1. Structure – is communication a direct report to the C-suite or not? If not, is the organization structured so as to promote top-down, bottom-up, lateral, or what forms of communication amongst its parts?

    2. Style – this refers to top leadership. Do the individuals in the C-suite value employee communication, particularly in their actions more so than their words? Do they actually recognize it as a distinct discipline or field, with its own composition of art, science, craft and scholarship?

    3. Systems – what communication and information systems have employees and executives come to rely upon for helping them better perform their roles and responsibilities? Do these systems allow for enhanced communication to take place throughout the organization?

    4. Staff – are employees informed about the role of employee communication in the performance of their jobs? Are they given opportunities to develop communication competence? Do they receive acknowledgment, incentives or rewards for improving their communication?

    5. Shared values – does the culture of the organization or enterprise promote the need for effective employee communication, or is it given only marginal (if any) support as a distinctive skill within the organization?

    6. Skills – do the organization’s communicator’s reflect highest competence in their performance of employee communication tasks? Are they up to date on their knowledge and use of multiple comms. channels? Do they perform research of employee communication needs, and measure their performance to gauge improvement in this over time?

    7. Last but certainly not least, Strategy – how does employee communication fit in with (alignment, congruence)and support the stated and actual strategy of the organization? Does employee communication allow the firm to do things in its marketplace or with stakeholders that its competitors cannot match? Does the strategy of the firm promote employee communication as a way of achieving advantage, either commercially with its clients/customers or through its social, political relationships?

    As you can tell, this is only a short list of questions that might determine whether EC should be part of an enteprise’s or organization’s core competencies. Of course, streams of research on this phenomena over time would get us closer and closer to an answer we could be confident in. Having said that, I’m still a bit apprehensive about whether that will occur in the near future or not. Until then, we will have to be satisfied to rely on knowledge that is not derived in the scientific tradition for our replies (recognizing that these can often be accurate or valid in their own right.

    I hope I helped, and didn’t muddy, the conversation. Craig

  13. Fraser, a very useful and easliy understandable description of the different roles of internal communicators.
    Thank you.
    I am sure many will benefit from this… certainly I being one of them.

    In the institutionalization process there are a number of outstanding issues, and one of them has to do with the very ancient one concerning the relationships between internal and external communicators and how they fit ‘institutionally’ in any organization.
    As far back as I can remember.

    I began my career in 1962 (!) as an internal communicator in a oil company called Stanic, an eni/esso (now exxon), and was assigned to create contents and edit an internal monthly for the more than 5000 employees working in two huge refineries (one in Livorno and one in Bari). I had just finished a masters program on public relations in Rome (the first ever, at the Pro Deo Vatican school)with a final paper on ‘communicating with employees and trade unions’.
    I reported to the personnel manager.

    When, in 1976 I co-founded SCR Associati, soon to become Italy’s largest pr agency, we were not involved in internal communications as we considered it as the territory of the personnell department.
    I also remember in 1981, Methodos (the company where I now work) came to me and asked me if I would object if they diversified their management training activities also into internal communication. SCR was an important shareholder and I of course said that I had no objection, as I still considered employee communication the domain of personnel department.

    Then things began to move and by the early nineties many italian organizations created joint committees between personnel (by then, this function began to be named humam resources….at the time I thought this was a terrible nomenklature, but by now I have become used to it..).

    In the mid nineties many companies transited that responsibility to communication departments and by now, some 50 + percent of structured organizations have employee communications as part of the public relations or communication department.

    I am very conscious that each organization has (and should have) its own culture and habits and history and modes of management, so I would not raise this issue, if it were not for the fact that in these last ten years we have witnessed the appearance of an increasing ‘porosity’ of organizations.

    As internal publics gain more insights and exert pressures for more information; as internal publics gain more credibility amongst external publics and are often considered a source more reliable than official representatives; as social media have exploded(intranets, blogs, wikis and all that jazz…).

    Having said all this, here is my question for you, Benita and other visitors:

    if you were asked to recommend the most effetive positioning of the internal communication role in an organization, would you still say that:
    …it depends (on the culture etc…)?

    or would you not today argue that:
    yeah…sure…communication can still report to marketing, but all studies indicate that it is more effective when it reports to the c-suite directly
    (see latest gap study from annenberg school of communication which will be presented in Milano by Jerry Swerling, featured on this blog here

    Similarly, would you not say that the ‘porose organization’ today requires employee communication to be considered part of the core competencies of the public relations and communication function, along side with public affairs, media relations, events, etiquette?
    In his public relations manual (published in 2004….ages ago in this era…) Emanuele Invernizzi distinguished between core and extended competencies, the latter being characterised by a planned support to other functions which included human resources,finance, marketing, procurement…

    Would you still think this is so or that employee communication is now part of the core competencies?

  14. Benita, I agree there is a distinct “educational” role, one that will “assist organisational members to become communicatively competent”. In real life PR practice, my research shows that this is definitely a role played as part of better internal/employee communication sub-function activity.

    I performed a fairly solid content analysis of years of Melcrum, Ragan, IABC, and CCM vehicles (publications; conferences; listservs) (originally presented at the 2006 Institute for PR Measurement Conference). These sources are the major internal communication gathering spots for practitioners interested in employee communication. From what practitioners and consultants (not including academics) write about and discuss, there seem to be five distinct roles for an internal communication sub-function to play in an organization.

    The five I have identified are: communicator; educator; change agent; small c consultant (The Jim Shaffer Role); and strategist. The first focuses on an internal communication infrastructure/channels/vehicles/content aggregation/dissemination role. This is a basic and traditional role moving information around an organization. The second is the training/coaching role, making others good communicators (CEOs; supervisors). Working with the C-suite on their communication goals, capabilities and activities has been recently defined in the practitioner literature as Leadership Communication. Improving the communicative abilities of middle managers has long been a role played in organizations where information cascade is a prominent channel. The third refers to the role played in corporate strategy execution, in particular with resulting change management programs and required large-scale culture/climate/behaviourial change. The fourth is the role Jim Shaffer champions (first proposed in his 2000 book The Leadership Solution). It is what I would call small c communication change, built around specific operational process improvements. Jim believes internal communication should work directly with operating units to improve the communication they use around their performance – thus improving productivity, time to market, etc. Improving communication along an assembly line leads directly to the bottom line. Finally the fifth, which I have labeled as strategist, focuses on being a player in the organization’s overarching strategic management process including being an active contributor to deliberate corporate strategy development, to internal stakeholder relationship building and to emergent corporate strategy development. If internal communication specialists enact the first four roles, then they have built up a tremendous knowledge of the organization and have valuable intelligence to provide in deliberate and emergent strategy development processes.

    All that said, the ‘educator’ role is one that practitioners have identified and the practitioner literature teems with examples. I recently did a small write up of this research for Melcrum’s Strategic Communication Management magazine (Vol 12,3 Apriil/May 2008).

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