Corporate Communications Teams: Structures and Functions

What are best practices around structuring and managing my company's corporate communications team?

According to Financial Times, corporate communications are "a management function or department, like marketing, finance, or operations, dedicated to the dissemination of information to key constituencies, the execution of corporate strategy, and the development of messages for a variety of purposes for inside and outside the organization." In an era where consumer trust in brands is at an all-time low, corporate communications take on a new importance, serving as an organization's "conscience" and stewarding its reputation, both internally and in the market.

Effective corporate communications teams must maintain multiple lines of communication while balancing transparency with brand security. As PR continues to evolve far beyond the press release, new structures, skill sets, and perspectives will be needed to effectively communicate with stakeholders ranging from customers to employees. As of now, PR agencies go far beyond writing press releases, including social media, speaking opportunities, content creation (white papers and blog posts), speech writing, and event planning.

Job of the Week (JOTW) newsletter and Sword and the Script Media conducted the third annual JOTW Communications Survey for 2020, and found that "75 percent of PR pros say media relations is getting harder" with "64 percent say exclusives are useful, 61 percent still find value in press releases, and 52 percent say embargoes can help."

In addition, 72 percent of PR professional felt partisan politics create challenges, and 38 percent felt brands should not take a stand while 29 percent brands had a duty to. Ultimately, the top five strategies respondents believed are most successful are data and analytics, storytelling, content marketing, business social responsibility, and thought leadership.

Below are best practices, trends, and research on managing corporate communications.

Trends and Best Practices

  • The Future of the Role of the PR Pro. Ragan, May 2020.
    The COVID-19 crisis drastically changed the landscape for communications and PR professionals. As brand managers are adjusting to a new normal of remote work, pivoted outreach and marketing, and careful reputation management, PR pros are adapting to become crucial advisors for business leaders. To get a clearer picture of how the PR role has irrevocably changed, Ragan fielded a survey to get a snapshot of how industry leaders see their future and what parts of the PR function are more important than ever. Findings related to reporting structures:

  • Communications Survey. Job of the Week/Sword and the Script Media, May 2020.
    The Job of the Week (JOTW) newsletter and Sword and the Script Media conducted the third annual JOTW Communications Survey for 2020 to understand trends in the field of communications. It examined trends in communications, public relations (PR), public affairs, marketing communications, and related fields. It covers important topics including: the effects of partisan politics on communications; top challenges facing communicators, the state of media relations, media bias, PR ethics, PR firms, top tactics in PR and communications, PR measurement, PR technology, employment, and organizational structure of the in-house communications department:

Sword and the Script also shared the results of an informal Twitter survey they conducted, which featured responses from 337 PR and corporate communications professionals:

  • Assessing the Excellence of the Corporate Communication Department. Reputation Institute, January 2018.
    This paper presents a combination of academic research and global best practices to provide criteria to determine the quality of a corporate communications department. It also includes a self-assessment tool for companies to use to evaluate their own communication department. As an example, GE’s corporate communications department is used:

  • Structuring the Communication Function. FIR Podcast Network, October 2018.
    How do you know if you're using the best structural model for communication? Can hybrid models co-exist successfully? Four IABC Fellows explored the latest thinking on department structures, including how to work with agencies and freelancers (on goal setting, budgeting, etc.). The panel will also look at whether departments should be consolidated or employ an agency model (with staff embedded in parts of the organization), as well as whether all communications departments should be grouped together, and where they should report.

Past Research

  • The Chief Communications Officer: Survey and Findings Among the Fortune 500. Korn-Ferry, July 2015.
    This survey shed light on corporate communications team size, reporting relationships, leadership characteristics, critical challenges, areas receiving more attention, and how chief communications officer roles and leadership competencies have changed. Feedback on annual compensation and bonuses/long-term incentives was also gathered.
  • How Does Your Corporate Communications Team Compare? Edelman, June 2014.
    Edelman’s corporate communications benchmarking study surveyed 36 companies and explored headcount, reporting lines, and areas of improvement. The study suggested that teams are shaped by size, industry dynamics, and business-to-business versus business-to-consumer focus, and also by internal factors such as organizational culture, leadership changes, transformation initiatives, and operational constraints.

  • PR Departments Increasing Staff and Budgets as Corporate Communications Evolves in an Era of Biz Uncertainty. Bulldog Reporter, July 2016.
    A Conference Board study found that corporate communications teams typically outperform other departments on gender diversity, both in rank and file and among leadership. It also discovered that corporate communications teams expanded budgetary resources to increase team size and hire new talent. As marketers better appreciate the strategic importance of communications roles and expand their scope within the companies they work, they choose to invest in internal capabilities and specialized skills.

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"Structuring Corporate Communications." ANA, August 2021.