Dissertation: Corporations Send Out Messages

Pages: 38 (10552 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 42  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Communication

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Corporations send out messages constantly -- through ads, commercials, websites, quarterly and annual reports, job postings on Monster.com, memos tacked up on lunchroom bulletin boards. The audiences for these different messages are different from each other, which is one of the major reasons that traditionally companies have not worried about whether they are presenting a consistent message on all of these fronts. If the memos about how to file an expense report sent out to employees don't sound anything like the annual report filed with the SEC, well there was no reason that they should.

However, in the last few years companies have been moving more and more toward what is known as an integrated corporate communication system so that all of the messages coming from a company are in the same "language." The purpose of such an approach is to present a unified image of the company's goals and values, one aspect of the ongoing push in many companies to promote a unified brand. This research project examines the history of this style of corporate communication while asking questions about its effectiveness and -- even more importantly -- about what this push towards integrated corporate communication can tell us about the culture of commerce today.

Traditionally there was a distinct division between the ways in which those at the top of a corporate hierarchy communicated with those inside their company and those outside of it. This makes intuitive sense: Employees are different from stockholders, and even more different from people who purchase a company's products or services. Customers and stockholders both have to be persuaded that the company has something worth buying, while employees are concerned with their jobs and salaries and how these are related to the company's performance and their own work. In some ways, a company's communication with its employees is like talking to family members while its communication with potential customers and stockholders is like talking to guests at a dinner party.

In real life, we talk very differently to these two audiences of family members and party guests, and the fact that companies have also chosen to communicate with insiders and outsiders differently reflects this basic pattern in human communication. In other words, corporate communication traditionally followed general communication strategies used in other situations such as families, with different styles of communication -- really, different dialects -- used in different contexts. This is the same sort of rule that tells us to talk one way to our grandparents and another way to our friends.

The shift to an integrated system of corporate communication can be seen as a violation of this common-sense distinction in which who one is talking to determines in large measure how one talks. This is not to say that there are not good arguments for an integrated corporate communication strategy for the reasons touched on above: Such a strategy can be extremely helpful in terms of building up brand and a coherent corporate identity to the public. In an era of ever-increasing globalization, such a strategy might seem (and may well be) vital to a company as it stretches across the planet. Assessing the effectiveness of integrated communication systems is the core of this research project.

However, there is another compelling issue to be here, which is what such an integrated corporate strategy says about larger issues of how corporations function in the 21st century. One of the implications of this new form of corporate communication, and one that has not been systematically examined, is that corporations speak to their employees in much the same way that they speak to the rest of the world because employees are no longer seen as a part of the corporate family to whom the company owes ongoing loyalty.

Executive Summary

This research examines the ways in which corporations have over the last several years shifted increasingly to an integrated approach to their communication strategy so that all of the stakeholders with which a company's leaders communicate on a regular basis hear the same message spoken in the same "language." The primary reason that company managers give for this shift is that it is an effective marketing tool, especially in the sense that it helps provide a focused image and definition for its brand. This is true -- in the sense that it accurately reflects what corporate managers and officers think. It is probably also true in that it is does tend to produce a more tightly defined brand, something that is increasingly important in a globalized marketplace in which it is all too easy for a company to see its brand suffer from dilution.

However, while this paper addresses the above issue, and especially how it applies to two large corporations (the New York Times and Coca-Cola), it is more focused on what can be seen as the cultural and social reasons behind these changes in corporate communication styles and strategies. Marketing (and its more modern form of branding) have been central to companies for decades without such a shift toward an integrated communication strategy; therefore, there is something in the current business climate that has created this shift.

Some of what has changed is the technology of communication. While vital, this is sociologically the least interesting of the changes. Of greater analytical interest (and so of greater focus in this paper) are globalization and changing relations between management and labor.

Aims and Objectives

In examining the current trend towards increased integration in corporate communication strategy, this thesis covers the pragmatics of corporate communications as they have changed over the last decade, examining why corporations have begun to shift their strategies. There are three -- or at least two-and-a-half -- primary reasons for this. The first is that there has been a substantial change in the nature of communication itself over the last decade. While communication styles and media have been shifting since the Internet began to move communication from the personal (face-to-face, or written) to the electronic.

However, the early days of the Internet changed communication relatively little for the majority of the population, even for the majority of the educated population. Access was limited and interest even more so, as the Internet offered relatively little that was compelling to most people. Even as email became more and more commonly used, the Internet was still confined to the minority of the population. This has become increasingly less true, in part because people have simply become more and more used to the email and so more and more trusting of it.

However at least as important has been the expansion of texting and social media in terms of software and cultural practice and smart phones in terms of hardware. As communicating electronically has become easier and more varied, communication in all realms has been affected. Companies have been affected by this shift in preferred forms of communication, and this has tended to push companies toward the end of integrated communication. Communication produced to be disseminated electronically is easier to create in an integrated form in a purely formal, technological sense.

Also, a greater reliance on computers in general and on electronic communication in particular has tended to serve as a centripetal force in corporate organization, which is allied to (if not clearly causative of) greater integration in communication strategies. As other aspects of corporate organization have become increasingly integrated, it would be puzzling if communication functions did not follow the same path.

The second major reason that corporate communication has shifted toward a more integrated form is that corporations have become increasingly global. The converse of this is also true: It is the companies that have become the most globalized that have tended to be the most enthusiastic of users of integrated corporate communication strategies. That is why this research focuses on two companies with a global reach: Both The New York Times and the Coca-Cola Corporation are international companies.

The following summarizes some of the key dynamics involved in the Janus-headed push toward integrated corporate communication (in the inward direction) and globalization (in the outward direction). One can see the modern large-scale corporation as being pulled in both directions, toward greater internal stresses and centralization and greater outward demands.

The following analysis of corporate communications argues (and this seems to be a very strong argument) that an integrated corporate communication system imposes a needed "discipline" (which in this sense translates to an integrated, seamless communication style and underlying intention). Such an integration, or close-to-complete-uniformity) helps to create "satisfactory exchanges with consumers and customers." Integrated communication programs are key to creating such a level of satisfaction because without such integration it is impossible either create or to maintain "positive two-way relationships with other publics who could impact organizational performance."

These different "publics" are also sometimes referred to as stakeholders. Both terms are appropriate, although neither fully captures the range of individuals who are affected by and who participate in communication with a company (including both internal and external communications). Each of these publics… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Corporations Send Out Messages.  (2011, August 22).  Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/corporations-send-out-messages-constantly/47059

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"Corporations Send Out Messages."  Essaytown.com.  August 22, 2011.  Accessed December 9, 2019.
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