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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

LEADERSHIP AND CONTROL IN A COMMUNICATIONS DEPARTMENT


Scott Van Camp, editor of PR News, recently posted a blog by a former Bausch + Lomb communications executive on empowering line communications staff by ceding control of some communications to them. He said it was an essential part of fostering leadership qualities and professional growth in a communications team.

He noted how an understanding CEO was essential to such a program's success. A commitment to leadership development as a corporate philosophy that includes the freedom to act independently starts at the top and pushes down. Ideally it becomes part of the corporate brand as well as the organization's DNA. Such organizations usually do well in internal and external perception: the policy helps attract, nurture and keep the best talent, and it presents a marketable and legitimate employee-friendly face to customers and stakeholders.

But a successful commitment to ceding control, especially to communicators with internal and external audiences, also requires limiting the risks when individuals have freedom to act. A communications department with several independent message pathways and spokespeople can undo the benefits of empowerment by confusing audiences unless the entire communications team is working from the same playbook, and is in sync with the CEO.

Some of CommCore's tips in that regard:

• The CEO is the most visible spokesperson for the brand. Make sure all empowered communications staff know exactly what he or she is saying publicly at all times.

• The wider the delegation of communications authority within an organization, the more important ongoing communications training and refreshers become. It ensures consistency in the substance and tone of messaging when a large team of communicators interacts with media and internal and external stakeholders.

• Crisis response planning and simulation (including clear grants of authority) may be the exception to the policy of  "empowerment." Crisis response requires a different discipline and planning, so team members need to have their antennae up for different responses in an emergency. This is particularly important when communications functions are delegated widely across business units, product lines, and geographical areas.

Does your organization, or a client of yours, delegate communications authority? How has it worked? What have the benefits and costs? Any lessons learned, positive or negative?

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