Corporate communication – their essence and history

9 February 2024
Reading time 4 minuty

One of the characteristics of an organization is the flow of information between people inside it and between it and its external stakeholders. In this network of interdependencies, the actors are individuals who constantly exchange information with each other. Communication takes place both vertically, within organizational structures that depend on each other, and horizontally, between individuals who are directly independent of each other.

Corporate communication has not only different directions, but also many ways, used on a daily basis, which include verbal and non-verbal, individual, group and mass communication, formal and informal, official and unofficial, conscious and unconscious, intentional and spontaneous, centralized and decentralized. Not each type is equally important from the point of view of the organization, but each to some extent influences its perception, perceptions, image, reputations building a fragmented or full image of the company among stakeholders. Managing communications at all these levels so that the organization speaks with one voice, has a holistic, consistent message, is largely the task of corporate communications.

Corporate communication builds intangible assets such as identity, organizational culture, brand, influencing its image and reputation. It is strongly linked to business processes by influencing customer preferences, employee motivations through communication processes, and creating a favorable atmosphere for the company’s activities with other stakeholders, not just its customers. It also helps align organizational strategies by identifying opportunities, gathering customer information, integrating public concerns and provides the organization with room to maneuver through crisis relationship management and building the legitimacy of the company[1].

Origin and essence of corporate communication

Back at the turn of the 20th century, public opinion and its views were not important to many corporations. “To hell with public opinion” the words uttered by William Henry Vanderbilt, then head of the New Central Railoard show this attitude very vividly. This is how the manager referred to the critical voices of public opinion regarding the expansion of the railroad network[2].

Communication with customers was dominated by advertising, which was designed to promote sales without regard to ethical standards or the truthfulness of the message. Looking at cigarette advertisements, especially in the first half of the 20th century, they were advertised by doctors, nurses and scientists, among others. In turn, individual brands of cigarettes had social and health emphases, including supporting weight loss, fitness and even health itself[3]. Manipulations, misrepresentations, insinuations, or outright lies, thanks to the media, among other things, caused public awareness to grow and “looking at the hands” of large corporations became more frequent. On top of this, the saturation of the market with products caused a gradual shift away from the production orientation, which was initially favored by the advantage of demand over supply, and a search for new solutions in both marketing and communication. This, among other things, influenced the development and public relations.

Since the 1970s, stakeholder outreach has typically been recognized as public relations and has largely been reduced to media relations. Over time, however, the amount of information demanded by different stakeholder groups led to a broader view of information management, not just through the lens of public relations. The corporate communications that took shape in this way absorbed not only media relations, but also investor relations, issues management, internal communications, change communications, crisis communications, public affairs, advertising and corporate design[4]. Olins, in turn, saw at the root of the discipline’s development such stages as corporate brand diagnosis and strategic recommendations, the formation of the guiding idea of identification keys, the formation of the identification system and, finally, the development of a corporate communications program[5].

corporate communication - Public Dialog Warszawa

Corporate communications a higher form of public relations

Cornelissen defined it as a management function that creates a framework for the effective coordination of internal and external communications aimed at creating and sustaining a favorable reputation for an organization among all the stakeholders on whom it depends[6]. This sounds very similar to the definitions defining, however, not corporate communications, but public relations. This convergence of definitions between public relations and corporate communications should not come as a surprise, as the two disciplines are strongly intertwined, with the latter appearing to be a much broader field, constantly encompassing new areas of communication especially for large organizations.

Over time, a more comprehensive form was needed, which began to include not only public relations with crisis communication, but also internal, investor relations, change communication, public affairs, corporate design, advertising[7]. With the development of communication disciplines, it began to include such elements as sponsorship, CSR, corporate brand management. The new broad communication function was to focus on managing the communication of the entire organization with all its external and internal stakeholders, and became a key discipline for building and protecting corporate reputation and being responsible for the entire message of the organization.mi i wewnętrznymi interesariuszami i stać się kluczową dyscypliną budującą i chroniącą reputację firmy oraz odpowiadającą za cały przekaz organizacji.

[1] Zerfass, A., Verčič, D., Verhoeven, P., Moreno, A., Tench, R., European Communication Monitor 2015, EACD European AssociaPon of CommunicaPon Directors, Brussels, EUPRERA European Public RelaPons EducaPon and Research AssociaPon, Brussels, 06.2015, s. 44
[2] Cornelissen J., Komunikacja … op.cit., s. 37
[3] (dostęp: 05.04.2917)
[4] Cornelissen J., Komunikacja … op.cit., s. 25
[5] Daszkiewicz M, Wrona S., Kreowanie…, op.cit, s.69
[6] Cornelissen J., Komunikacja …, op.cit., s 26
[7] Cornelissen J., Komunikacja …, op.cit., s 25

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