Despite the growing fear of social media and the risk it poses to corporate reputation, particularly in Asia, only a quarter of corporate communications practitioners report directly to C-Suite executives according to report by VMA Group released last month.
This is a mistake said Simon Sproule, CVP of global marketing communications at Nissan Motor Company. “It’s critical that corporate communication has direct access to C-suite executives, and is being placed at the heart of a company’s decision-making process,” he said.
Althoug direct access to the C-suite is more common in big multinational companies in Asia Pacific, especially in markets like India, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, South Korea and Southeast Asia. On the other hand, the process is very slow in Japan, and placing corporate communications as a core function is still lagging behind, said Sproule.
When companies fail to engage with their communications teams on all levels, they risk embarking on reputation-destroying initiatives such as trademark-bullying lawsuits just like the the one formerly friendly Starbucks has taken out against a roadside stall in Bangkok. Or have agency partners take actions that don’t place a brand in its best light or run campaigns that aren’t in line with brand values.
“Everyone within the organisation needs to be involved and work together on it, including agency partners,” said Verdayne Nunis, director of communications, commercial & consumer, Microsoft Asia Pacific. “I hope to see more agencies with strong social media ability and better understanding of what conversation our customers look for, rather than a single campaign.”
Today’s corporate communications departments aren’t only crucial to a company’s external reputation, they play an important role in keeping employee engagement levels high, pointed out Kathryn Woof, managing director of 33Talent Asia. Also, she added, that communication directive must come from the CEO.
“It’s vital to have someone managing communication from the top down to make sure internal and external stakeholders still know what the company stands for, what it's achieving and why it is still the company they want to carry on working with, even as it changes,’ said Woof.
So what do companies need to build corporate communications teams that are up to the challenge? Well, digital skills for starters.
“Everyone needs to have high level of comfort and expertise to work with digital channel, because business is digitally driven, from content to social media and CRM,” said Sproule.
“Strong communicators need to understand how social media works, be strategic, have a Gen Y mindset, and can work across all the groups,” agreed Nunis.
Surprisingly, a standalone digital communications function is still a fairly novel concept in Asia. This is despite 67 per cent of respondents predicting that social media will become the main platform used to communicate with their customers and stakeholders and experience in this area is fast becoming a highly sought-after skill in new recruits, according to The Pulse report.
Part of the problem, said experts, is the talent crunch. “This is a buyer’s market as demand outstrips supply,” Sproule said. To attract better talent, he advises organisations to change their structures; increase compensation and incentives to the corporate communications functions; as well as allocate resources, budget and head count fairly.
It’s not that Asian talent lacks ability, commented Nunis, but that Asians need to gain confidence, be more outspoken and take the lead.
Retention is another problem within many organisations, as The Pulse report listed better career development, new challenges, and lack of training in the previous position as the top three reasons why communication professionals resign.
“They are well aware of the pressure on the industry to step up and support the business, and match the performance of functions in more evolved markets,” said Katrina Andrews, director of VMA Group, Asia-Pacific. “But they look to their employers to invest the time and money in providing them, with clearly defined roles and positions to work towards.”
Woof also suggested that organisations should think outside of the box when they can't find someone with specific industry knowledge.
“A senior corporate communications practitioner knows how to ply their trade and get to the root of the commercial strategy,” she said. “If it takes them a couple of months to come up to speed on the new industry they are working with, but they stay with your organisation for several years, that initial ramp up period won't have seemed so long.”