For some, communication management is a special way of managing; for others it is the steering of all communications in the context of the organization; for yet others it is the same as public relations (PR), i.e. managing communication itself. This article features the second approach, i.e., communication management as the steering of all communications in the context of the organization. In order to understand communication management, it is important to first discuss the different communications functions within an organization. A prevailing view today is of corporate communication as defined by van Riel (1995). His definition includes organizational communication, marketing communication, and management communication. Organizational communication in this context is seen as PR activities, or communications between (and to) all other stakeholders than consumers and the organization. Marketing communication is typically communication directed at customers (B2B or B2C), and management communication is defined as that between managers and stakeholders. Others view van Riel’s umbrella definition not as corporate communication but rather as organizational communication. Corporate communication is thus the typical PR function. In this view, organizational communication is seen as encompassing all of the communication activities of the organization. This has caused some confusion, but regardless of how an organization’s communications roles are defined, a prevailing issue common to any definition is how the functions are structured within organizations.
Integration Of Communication
The two primary communication functions are marketing and PR. Kotler and Mindak’s seminal article in 1978 discussed the organizational possibilities of the marketing and PR functions. Depending on what they call the “class of an organization,” the two functions might be two separate but equal functions, equal but overlapping functions, marketing or PR as the dominant function, and marketing and PR as the same function. An integrated approach to communication management, calling for increased cooperation and interaction between communication functions, has gained popularity in recent years but even this approach has caused confusion (Schultz et al. 1993; Gronstedt 1996).
Cornelissen and Lock (2001) recognized the appeal of integration but believed that it deserves closer scrutiny. They cite the polarization within academia itself, describing those supporting it as pragmatists and those opposing it as purists. The pragmatists accept the concept enthusiastically, almost without question, as they see the need for communication consistency as even greater today. The “purists,” on the other hand, see integration as superficial and lacking theoretical grounding (Grunig & Grunig 1998). They challenge the idea of marketing as the dominant function in the excellence studies, which have become for some the standard for how PR should be organized. They believe that the marketing function, because of its budgets, perception in the organization, etc., would subsume PR if allowed too close proximity. Furthermore, they adhere to the oftrepeated argument that anything developing out of marketing cannot be strategic communication, as it can never understand the concept of dealing with multiple stakeholders.
Duncan and Caywood (1996) deal with this by viewing integrated marketing communication as occurring in seven stages, starting with awareness of the need for integrating communication by firms in dynamic markets. Their sixth stage encompasses stakeholder-based integration, and it can be said that the organization has achieved integrated communications due to all recognizing that customers are not the sole stakeholders of the organization. Finally, in stage seven, the relationship management integration results in a fully integrated communication strategy with contact by all management functions, thus achieving integrated communication.
Regardless of whether one takes a purist or pragmatist view, however, the need for integration exists. A primary reason for this is the need for consistency in communication. The marketing department that creates ad slogans that are inconsistent with an organization’s stated identity of ethics, trust, etc., can damage an organization’s reputation. Common sense dictates that organizations have oversight of who is saying what to whom. This, along with other influences, such as a tendency to consolidate communication disciplines within organizations, greater influence of communications in decision-making, and the rise of the corporate communication manager, all impact how communication is managed (Cornelissen 2004). As noted by Cornelissen, the integrated approach does not mean that there is no longer a need for separate PR and marketing functions.
Van Riel (2005) calls integration of communication a “magic word.” He proposes that “orchestration of communication” might be a more appropriate term, and, according to him, in essence it is more or less solving coordination issues. He suggests that the literature on “organizational behavior” (March & Simon 1958; Lawrence & Lorsch 1967; Ouchi 1979; Grant 1996) is also applicable to the field of communication management. Grant (1996) addresses the most important issues in the area of coordination. His approach can relatively easily be “translated” to the coordination of all forms of communication. He argues that there are four mechanisms within an organization that integrate specialist knowledge (such as communication knowledge). These are: (1) rules and instructions consisting of procedures, standardized information, and communication systems; (2) the organization of the primary process in a sequential manner, such that the input of every specialist seems independent because it is granted its own “time slot”; (3) application of professional action in a relatively automatic manner, with the use of implicit protocols; and (4) group problem solving to be implemented when the complexity increases, a more personal and communication-intensive form of integration.
Organizational Issues For Communication Management
The ability to orchestrate (manage) communication is also dependent on, among other things, organizational structure. Brønn et al. (2005) provide a review of organization theory and communication following the typology developed by McPhee and Poole (2001). Broadly speaking, organizational research has attempted to describe and to understand the influence of organizational structure on communication. For example, in the traditional perspective, which is based on the container metaphor and takes a reductionist approach to the subject, organizations are reduced to sets of dimensions or factors that are seen to be relevant for understanding organizational behavior. These include horizontal differentiation, size, and vertical hierarchy. This research has yielded much detailed information and propositions that are used by practitioners.
A second perspective is called the configurational view, which takes a more holistic view of the organization. The configuration approach in organizational theory and communication looks at the organization in its entirety, rather than decomposing it into distinct parts. Each configuration is composed of unique and specific combinations of structural features. One objective of this research is to understand the implications of the configuration on communications, as well as to investigate new configurations that arise from the competitive environment. Communication is key in configurational theories, and their communication structure and processes define some configurational types. For example, new configuration types such as networks are dependent on communication.
A more extreme and thought-provoking group of theories that have emerged in recent years are those that see organizational structure as a communicative phenomenon (McPhee & Poole 2001, 529). An example of this form is the “formal structural communication” (FSC) model (McPhee 1985) and various textual models of the organization. The FSC model is intended to highlight the “distinctive features of organizational communication that help to explain the proliferation of the complex organization as a social form” (McPhee & Poole 2001, 529). Some examples of communication types that have a direct relationship to organizational structure include the organizational charter, a company newsletter article about a structural change, and a co-worker’s explanation of what a manager “really meant” in a presentation. These examples largely rely on individuals’ interpretations of the communication as the basis for action and change. This approach has natural links to some of the main themes associated with the organizational learning literature (Senge 1990). The structure–communication approach appears to provide a platform for promoting a higher degree of interdisciplinary thinking, including a stronger focus on communication.
Farace et al. (1977) offer an approach to communication management. These authors state that communication managers’ roles are emerging because organizations are putting more emphasis on the processes of organizational communication. They maintain that three actions are necessary in order for a systematic approach to communication occur.
First, it is necessary to know how things are in the organization’s communication system, who is saying what to whom and how, including measures of timeliness, believability, and relevance. Second is a decision on how a system should operate, and third is knowing how to change the communication system. In this phase, the key to success is institutionalization of the communication system.
However, institutionalization does not imply that communication management is static. As the internal and external environment changes, organizations must also change and adapt. But institutionalization of communication management implies that communication is recognized for its key role in an organization’s performance. Furthermore, an institutionalized system can deal with communication management viewed as the orchestration of communication functions, as well as managing communication, the communication performance of individual organizational members.
The discussion of communication management has not changed much since Kotler and Mindak’s 1978 article. Organizations are still trying to find some optimal way to organize their communication functions so that communications are more effective and consistent. A popular approach has been the development of integrated communication but there is still not much empirical evidence that integration of PR and marketing is more effective than nonintegration, even though there is a large body of anecdotal evidence that integration might be a good idea. Resistance to integration is not solely a characteristic of the practitioner community, but also of the academic community. Marketing faculty in business schools and PR academics in schools of communication or journalism (at least in the US) do not help. Organizational structure is also a key element in communication management, with recent research indicating that communication may even be a driver of how organizations are structured.
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