Shooting the messenger is a common human trait, in business as much as elsewhere.
In the corporate world, it often manifests itself in the poor old comms department getting the blame for bad publicity, when the source of the problem usually lies within — sometimes at the top.
In reality, the comms function of any organisation is its window on the world — enabling a company to project outwards, but equally providing the public and customers with the chance to get a look inside.
In that sense, the comms function tests and stretches an organisation.
If the spokesperson’s external message is poor, jarring, unsympathetic or confused, the overwhelming likelihood is that’s because he or she is merely reflecting the information and messages being generated within. No professional comms person wants to be regarded as any of the things above.
Good quality external communications absolutely depends on being able to access good quality information inside. If there is a problem with the latter, the comms is bound to be dysfunctional, and potentially at variance with the facts.
If a company finds itself in the eye of a media storm, these problems of internal communication flow — or lack thereof — will very quickly become apparent.
However, that also presents an opportunity. A problem can only be fixed once it’s been diagnosed, and a public crisis is the perfect chance for a comms person to push back internally and press for better procedures and sharing of information. Internal transparency assists external clarity.
One small test for any company would be to imagine the word divided up according to the different government departments — what if a senior manager bumped into the education secretary, or the transport or environment minister? What would be the top one or two points to make to them about what the organisation does that relates to each portfolio area?
Gathering that sort of information together — even just as an internal exercise — can help to crack open good quality material, and potentially really good company initiatives, which may currently be trapped in cast iron silos.
So the next time a manager complains about the comms department, the correct response may be “look within”.