Communications Strategy is Business Strategy

February 28, 2024
By Lori Teranishi
Silhouetted figures in a meeting around a table, creating an air of corporate discussion or negotiation.

If you’re like me, you get a little tired of hearing communications professionals express a wish for a seat at the table, as though it’s something to aspire to. The seat — meaning a valued place within senior leadership — is open. Taking it isn’t hard, but for many communicators, holding onto it is another matter.

Earlier this month I had the privilege of participating in the Yale School of Management program on CCO Leadership in Multistakeholder Value Creation. As someone who’s always viewed communication as inseparable from business strategy, I found the program validating, illuminating and inspiring. Our cohort included people who work for some of the world’s top-performing businesses, where corporate strategy and corporate communications operate in unison. In some cases, people move seamlessly between the two functions.

 

A group of people in front of a Yale School banner.

With Roger Bolton, Jon Iwata and Ravi Dhar, instructors of the Yale School of Management’s Stakeholder Innovation and Management certificate program.

 

When you think about it, this only makes sense. In the midst of an increasingly complex system of risks and threats across a range of stakeholders, the challenge of identifying and prioritizing business objectives demands not just data and intelligence, but also — critically — communication. Our job as communicators is to help transform complexity into something comprehensible and actionable for our fellow leaders, employees, business partners, customers, investors, suppliers, policy makers and members of the communities where we operate.

To do this, we have to be willing to operate in the gray areas that exist between opposing agendas and emerge with insight that can accelerate the organization’s path to success. We also have to get comfortable with data. The digitization of nearly everything means that reporting and decision-making are underpinned by data in every business function — accounting and finance, sales and marketing, operations, R&D, HR, IT and risk management.

 

Our job as communicators is to help transform complexity into something comprehensible and actionable for our fellow leaders, employees, business partners, customers, investors, suppliers, policy makers and members of the communities where we operate.

 

Surprisingly, in many organizations today, corporate communications is the exception, resisting the call for performance metrics and dashboards that would provide an objective demonstration of our function’s strategic alignment with and contributions to the business. This is self-limiting; even if we’re brought in on strategic matters, we won’t be seen as essential players — as people driving the business forward — until we embrace the power of data analytics.

The time has come for us to be net creators of business value. The highest performing corporate communicators have shed the image of cost centers and are instead proving that in today’s multi-stakeholder environment, they are central to managing risk and leveraging opportunity to drive durable value creation. They are not only taking a seat at the table, but in some cases, sitting at the head of it.