Put your megaphone down and listen

Corporate communication is faced with new challenges. Once having to simply master the digitization of communication, it increasingly has to excel in the communication of digitization as well. Press officers are turning into communication managers, taking on wholly new and unfamiliar roles as they go along.

Only communication brings a digital agenda into action

In the past, we loudly proclaimed the latest accomplishments of our companies to the press. Reporters used to wait patiently in front of the factory gates, press officers in high-visibility jackets read out bon mots and the occasional question was asked — a case of exchanging information for publicity. The relationship between journalists and PR was the foundation of successful communication. Was, not is. The memory of this world is fading fast against the stark reality of what we face today. In front of the factory gates, digitization is a raging storm and the familiar patterns we are used to have been turned on their head. Communication in itself is now symbolic for digital change. If we think of digitization, we tend to think of Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat — all of them products of the digital equivalent of the big bang that, instead of creating the universe, blew up the primal mass media state into a dispersed chaos of many-to-many landscape.

What many communicators perceive as waves of change, sweeping barely beyond social media, is in fact a tsunami covering every area of our lives. The consequence is new responsibilities that can be compressed in one single new task: not only do they have to master the digitization of communication, but, more importantly, they now have to excel in the communication of digitization. The primary rule in this new field is that corporate communication must moderate chaos. If you want to master communication in the seemingly chaotic digital age, you need skills that go well beyond existing job profiles. My colleague, Christopher Storck, underlined this by saying that “many have widened their job role expectations a while ago.”

We have to challenge our perceived image of what it means to be a communicator and, in all likelihood, take on more and more roles that used to be outside of our area of responsibility. Megaphones are of no use anymore. As stated by Christof Erhart, Head of Corporate Communications Deutsche Post DHL, we hardly need to explain our company to the world, but rather the world to our company. The key is to get out of your comfort zone and move beyond the image of people waiting outside of the factory gates for salubrious words from your PR department. We must explain that the fight for attention is tough and does not show consideration towards century old company traditions. We must explain that the dialogue with our communities will only succeed if we engage them at eye level. Our core business remains in the eloquent, subjective and positive interpretation of the truth. Nevertheless, we must do more and break free from the constraints of a one-dimensional speaker role towards a multi-dimensional management function.

We must become moderators who integrate heterogeneous interests, search for consistent messages and create something meaningful out of the creative chaos swirling around us. We must become analysts and find our inner data driven geek, instead of relying on our gut feelings. We must become innovators, who accept the status quo only as a beta version. We must become networkers, connecting strategic ties across business areas and hierarchies. We must not only take the digital DNA on board, we must become ambassadors, turning every employee from every discipline into digital leaders.

The responsibility of designing the technological dimension of digitization lies with the Chief Digital Officer. But technology alone is blank, cold architecture. Without people living in it and feeling at ease, it crumbles. Fast. This is where we come in: CCOs and communicators need to fill it with life, provide a framework all employees can navigate easily in and make use of. There being no other reason than digitization meaning far more than technological change. It is an irreversible upheaval in the way we coexist. Reduction of fears, improvement of education and motivation of people to push on — all those characteristics that are often described as the “soft” dimensions of digitization are, in fact, the most important part of the digital change.