Kevin Keohane-Commscrum Ireland (via London)
An earlier CommScrum post started the debate about “internal” vs “employee” communications. I’d like to progress debate about the decreasing space between what we often consider to be “internal” vs. “external” communications.
Organisations require structure, and traditionally it’s easiest to structure around functions and tasks. For example, Finance – IT – Marketing – HR – Operations – R&D – Manufacturing … at the same time, when it comes to communication, the same rules no longer apply. There has also been ample debate about “the way to organise your communication department” in past years, but this has mostly been about “Should it report to HR or Marketing or the CEO?”
I’d like to take this to another level, which is to say that the days of managing what I call “captive audiences” are well and truly over. What I mean is, both internally and externally, it’s a fallacy to believe that any single function “owns” an audience. For example, Corporate / Media Affairs owning “the media”; HR owning “employees”; Marketing owning “brand”; Investor Relations owning “investors” – and so on. My 2007 blog “The end of internal communications” references this thought.
In essence, “audiences” in the grander sense don’t actually exist. They are a purely rhetorical construct insofar as they only exist in the mind of the communicator. As technology and transparency have forever and profoundly changed the way we communicate, share and seek information, audience overlap renders most functionally-driven models ineffective, possibly counter-productive and at worst irrelevant. Your “employee” could be an investor; your “consumer” could well be a media content creator.
To summarise, once again I’ll bang the drum about “joining things up” and systems thinking. OK, it will take a while. OK, we’ll always need specialists. But a multiskill, generalist capability will eventually trump all when it comes to communicating with people.
Mike Klein–Commscrum Wales (via Brussels)
I completely agree about the lunacy of defending divisions between internal and external audiences–and instead, of better understanding and engaging with the interrelations between the range of stakeholder groups upon which organizational survival depends.
But I don’t think the “multi-skilled generalism” you advocate is the answer. Different stakeholder groups have different communication paradigms–namely that the flow and strategy required to succeed in politics/public affairs remains different between what works in media relations and what still works internally. Rather than valuing generalism, we need what the rugby world calls “cross-code” professionals–people who understand how the rules differ between each discipline, as well as understanding what they will increasingly have in common.
Lindsay Uittenbogaard – still Commscrumming from The Netherlands
Wow – I really like this one. There was always something that irked me about those ‘where does communication belong?’ discussions – particularly when it came to ‘who owns it’. Now I can see a way through.
As you say, Kevin – audiences are merged and communication defies any rules that compartmentalization might try to apply. As you say Mike, you still need to apply different styles to different audiences and I suspect this is because readers like it that way.
It is widely known that when people read in a certain context, they put a different hat on. They recognize specific words to have particular meanings in different situations, so understanding the language in a slightly different way. Each context caters for a different perspective too – so we ‘re not tailoring to suit the audience, we’re tailoring to suit the context each communication is being received in. I don’t see this stopping because it is more effective than writing for people without their ‘hats’.
Reflecting on Kevin’s point: in the language of communicators, the word ‘audience’ is not real – it’s just a construct in our minds. However semantic this may seem, it’s a valid distinction because the way people think about something frames where it sits and who owns it. Because communication content / audiences are joined up, in my dream world there is an umbrella part of organizations called The Whole Systems Team, which houses leadership development, communication, business improvement etc. – and it reports to the CEO. This would make NO sense to my grandmother – whose world since her days, has truly been turned upside down….
Dan Gray – Commscrum London
You know I love this thinking too, KK. It’s why I ‘borrowed’ the core thought and used it for a definition in the glossary of my book (“Audience – a fictitious construct created by communicators for the purposes of segmentation”). It’s incredibly profound as a first principle, precisely for the way it makes you think, as Lindsay describes so well in her last paragraph above.
As for Mike’s issue with ‘multi-skilled generalism’, perhaps I can suggest ‘multi-specialism’ as an alternative term that might bridge the gap?
If by ‘generalism’ we mean being a jack of all trades and master of none (as is commonly inferred), then of course Mike’s right. But I don’t think that’s what Kevin’s suggesting here.