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March Program: Corporate Communications

As with all forms of communication, corporate communication is changing. In this era of networked mobile technology, people engage with one another differently. Social groups have expanded to include individuals in dispersed geographic areas. Individuals with specialized interests are finding one another online and maintaining relationships. Neighbors use the Internet to strengthen community bonds and increase civic engagement.

Corporations and public service organizations are tapping into these phenomena to assess product opportunities and service needs. Customers, clients, local government, stockholders, business partners, employees, board members, vendors—each of these groups requires a slightly different message, transmitted in an appropriate medium and specific tone. Corporate communication professionals craft these messages and establish a strategy to diffuse it. CWIP’s moderator, Anna Applegate, invited three panelists to give an overview of the field.

Chris Otto, a communications executive with 15 years of experience with companies of all sizes, gave us a glimpse of how organizations are emphasizing internal communications and engaging employees. As the economy continues to recover from the crisis of 2008, companies are putting more resources toward the retention of employees. There are no company secrets anymore, and transparent, open communication from the corporate suite to the frontlines is no longer optional—it’s critical.

Having witnessed Google’s acquisition of Motorola, Blagica Bottigliero, an award winning social media director and founder of Zlato Digital, is well aware of the changes in corporations’ communication departments. She has seen blogs replace press releases and content become shorter and snappier. Companies have set up newsrooms for real-time marketing in an effort to better relate to customers. She describes her MO: “I have my laptop open in front of me, my smart phone to my right and my tablet to my left.”

Writers are resourceful job hunters. Since the layoffs in 2008, Lynn Hazan, president of executive search firm Lynn Hazan & Associates, has encouraged candidates to always be creative and to think outside the box.

Many top executives are uncomfortable talking into a video camera or crafting effective written communications, which is why they need writers and communications experts, says Otto. Writing for an employee audience requires a different style and skill than standard PR writing, and experienced, high-level internal communicators can be scarce, especially in mid-size or smaller markets. Relocation packages are just as rare, so if a skilled candidate is flexible about location and broadens her search beyond her own geographic area, she may come across the ideal job, if a little further from home. She will benefit from networking, using LinkedIn, and keeping in touch with everyone who has helped her, including those with whom she has interviewed.

Bottigliero reads blogs and manages social media boards to develop a passion for the topic she has been assigned to write about. Even if it is dull, this in-depth understanding of the product or issue gives her the backing to go out on a limb and write something that will get retweeted. This type of media attention justifies the risk to the director to whom she’s accountable.

Hazan concurs: “Content marketing is the new marketing—the web would die without content.” When writers partner with an IT specialist and a designer, they form a team that will earn them greater buy-in from their client. Bottigliero notes that writers don’t need to know very much about software but must respect what is involved in design and coding. Clients expect to see collaboration rather than competitive jostling and finger-pointing. Otto adds that as design technology rapidly changes and becomes more specialized, the jack-of-all-trades website writer and developer is finding it difficult to stay up-to-date.

Because mid- and upper-level communications professionals are not moving on to new opportunities, jobs in corporations are holding steady. In-house staff handles project management and accounting, but farms out the writing to public-relations firms, who in turn outsource it. Strong writers should consider partnering with freelance designers and developers to offer quality, cutting-edge full service. There is still a market for solid freelance content and design that can’t always be found in-house or even at agencies.

Hazan characterizes the job market as VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Marketers don’t know how to communicate. Communicators don’t know how to write. Tech start-ups are not coaching young grads to write or address profit and loss (P&L) and business issues. There is a demand for people with writing skills. Communication experts who would have wished for a full-time job in a different economy might consider being entrepreneurial instead. As a portfolio is no longer enough, job seekers must market themselves by first asking:

1. What is my best skill set?
2. Am I looking for full-time or freelance work?
3. What can I do differently than anyone else?
4. Where do I stand in the digital space?

Applegate commented on the creative tension in bridging the gap between content provider and business person. Writers need to provide solutions to business problems. They must cross the threshold to become a communications person with an understanding of business. Hazan added the imperative to understand several aspects of businesses. Due to the 2008 layoffs, a gap in the talent pipeline opened up. She suggests that communication professionals track companies that let people go en masse because they will soon hire again. Job seekers should bring attention to what makes them unique and why they should be hired above anyone else.

In her inimitable style, Bottigliero noted that storytelling is very hot. What’s your personal brand, your UPS? Your Unique Positioning Statement is your hook.

Ann-Christine Racette is a publishing professional with over ten years of experience in design, editorial, art, and project management. She is making a gradual transition to communications for cultural organizations, bridging her passion for the arts and interpersonal expression. She has designed a book for the Champaign Urbana Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, and illustrated a booklet, Elizabeth, Where Are You?, with her watercolors. She can be reached at ac@formempfindung.com.

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